what to include in a literature review

what to include in a literature review

Importance of a Comprehensive Literature Review

1. Introduction

A typical literature review consists of the following components: 1. Introduction: – Define the topic, issue, or theory under consideration. – This should start a series of ideas that will be familiar to the reader, drawing them through your literature review (not a dictionary definition, to be avoided). – Explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, – When it is necessary to explain why certain literature is included, and why certain literature is excluded, because the sample must be representative of the whole (take a paragraph to tell the reader what is included and what is not).

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review for your dissertation, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries.

2. Identifying the Research Gap

The Importance of Clear Cut Objectives and the Role of the Hypothesis: Once a research gap has been established, it is very important for the research to have a clear set of objectives. The objectives should be set in order to address the research gap and achieve what the research has set out to do. It is said that a well-defined research problem is already half solved. Having clear objectives stems from a clear understanding of what the research needs to achieve and what it will change. This is well-founded research logic and is essential in any research which aspires to make a significant contribution. Coming from social science research, a very useful way of clarifying objectives is to formulate a hypothesis. This is essentially a prediction of the findings of the research and is often stated as a relationship between two variables. By having a research gap, clear objectives, and a hypothesis, it is clear to see at this point how important the literature review has been and the direction that it has provided for the research. Often it is a common criticism in research that the conducted study did not warrant and was an aimless exercise. This is by no means the case when a good literature review has been carried out and the distinct difference can be felt.

Role of Literature Review in the Process of Research: Research is an essential activity for growth and development in any field. One of the primary reasons for carrying out research is to understand and solve the various problems existing in the environment. Researchers often identify a gap of knowledge which they aim to fill through their research and it is with this aim that research is able to make a significant contribution. One of the ways of identifying the knowledge gap is through a comprehensive study of the literature available on a particular topic. This can be either a specific topic or a general overview of the area. By examining the available literature and carrying out an exhaustive review, the research is able to be put into perspective and context of what has been achieved in that area and what further needs to be done in order to build on or develop. By identifying a need for further research in an area, a research gap is established. This research gap then provides a clear idea for what the research needs to achieve and is very useful when determining objectives for the research. This highlights the need for the literature review to be an integral part of the research process.

3. Evaluating Existing Literature

The result of evaluating the existing body of work can be many different things. It is at least a mental note to self on what the key areas are and what are the prominent pieces of literature that need to be revisited. In some cases, it might be useful to summarize the key pieces of literature in the form of a conceptual map or a general framework for the field. This can go on to inform the structure of your own literature review, by organizing the varying pieces of literature into areas and critiquing them one at a time. It is important to keep a good record of the different areas of literature and notes on what has been said and what you think about it. Failure to remember where you’ve read something in particular can be frustrating! In compiling notes, it is useful to make comparisons between different sources, looking for patterns and themes in the body of work. This in turn can help identify any contradictions or disagreements in the literature. Often the most valuable form of critique comes from identifying where the literature is lacking; from formulating ideas and questions, often inspired by the existing work. This should direct the learning back to the self, thus completing the cycle of learning, evaluating, and re-evaluating.

As well as being important for the reader, much of the work in evaluating the existing body of literature is to find out what has already been done. This can be a crucial task for a researcher, particularly if the aim is to extend on existing work. There is nothing worse than duplicating a study only to find that it has already been conducted, or even worse that another researcher has conducted the same study and you were unaware of it. By sifting through what has been done and what has not been done, you gain a good understanding of the field and where your research fits into it. Coming back to the example of a PhD student; knowing what research has been done can help determine an area of study or a topic and can let them know what has or hasn’t been achieved so far.

The aim, as you embark on the task of evaluating existing literature, is to first gain a comprehensive understanding of the field. It is to establish what is known on a particular topic, what are the key areas of debate, and who are the key writers. By establishing only the big picture, you miss the point of a comprehensive literature review. By evaluating what is good and bad about the existing body of work, you can begin to understand what you need to do and how to begin your own research. What is the theoretical framework that most of the work is situated in? Is there a theory that is used often in this particular field? Is there a methodology that a lot of other researchers have used, that you need to challenge for the field etc. You are trying to see what has been and what has not been accomplished. This in turn can help you decide the direction and scope of your own research.

4. Synthesizing Findings

To start, then, a literature review must synthesize the findings of others. It is a thread which draws article A close to article B and, in so doing, gains a purchase on the subject. Ideally, it is a story whose ending has yet to be told—an unfolding research study replete with puzzles and compelling questions. Sage research is bookish; it seeks to learn from what is already known and done in order to influence what will be known and done. Thus, literature reviews that are as research studies are the best way to set the groundwork for a good research project.

A comprehensive literature review involves much more than an exhaustive search for information, a cursory read of the articles found, and a compilation of them. Why? Because such an approach results in a final product that is no more than the sum of its parts. The following discussion assumes that the goal of the literature review is to produce a product that will communicate to others what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what the strengths and weaknesses are in the literature.

5. Drawing Conclusions and Future Directions

Since the historian was interested in general social causation theory as well as specific research propositions, a wide variety of biographical, organizational, and methodological literature from medical sociology and public health was relevant to his interests. An extensive, if not exhaustive, search of the likely literature turned up several potentially important studies despite the fact that there is as yet no body of work which can be called the epidemiology of cancer. This example shows that the more amplitude and complexity a topic has, and the more redirects to it from a variety of disciplines, the more there is to gain from comprehensive literature reviews. High amplitude topics are the future of research in a variety of social and natural sciences, and it is here that the social scientist can provide his greatest service to the research community. Future research on social causal inference in the epidemiology of cancer has been greatly facilitated by the array of research propositions uncovered in what is a relatively young and still developing field.

Firstly, historians are provided with an example of a comprehensive literature review in a previous historical review of the epidemiological research on the social causes of cancer. Though cancer’s history spans ancient and modern times and countries around the globe, and though it is a problem whose solution would be of great benefit to humanity, the epidemiology of cancer has not been a topic of much historical writing.

The final section of the paper discusses the importance of future research, and it’s slightly stronger than what’s proposed by its name in that it draws logical conclusions from critiques of various research designs to show the added value of the more comprehensive literature reviews suggested by these critiques. In this manner, the section speaks directly to the research community that is its primary audience. The paper has taken a multi-faceted approach to emphasizing the importance of comprehensive literature reviews.

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