writing a literature review

writing a literature review

The Importance of Writing a Literature Review

1. Introduction

In this first section, the reasons why the review of related literature and studies was undertaken are stated. It also explains the focus and limitations of the review. This is followed by organizing the review, which involves restating the research problem and sub-problems or hypotheses. This is done by explaining how the review will be organized. In the last part of this section, the significance of the review is included. A discussion of how the review will contribute to the research question and clarify the research findings. At the end, the benefits of reviewing related literature and studies will be summarized. Every research report/thesis/research article begins with an introduction to the study. The importance of the first stage of developing a research report is that at this stage the student defines the research problem. The contents of the research report are: the research topic, the importance that this research topic has in the scheme of things, the problems that the writer is trying to address, the hypothesis or set of research questions that the writer is trying to answer, and evidence supporting the importance of the research topic. This same method is used when writing an introduction to the review of related literature and studies.

2. Purpose and Significance of a Literature Review

The initial purpose of the literature review is to establish the state of the art in any given field by looking at and comparing a variety of knowledge sources. An important aspect of this process is the identification of the gaps in the current knowledge, all with the aim of providing pointers to the way forward for new research. The quality and utility of your research will be greatly enhanced if you are able to identify and demonstrate how further research may fill a major gap in the existing knowledge. With this in mind, a good literature review will provide a focused and rigorous analysis of the key literature on your chosen topic. This can involve further review of the key articles as well as in-depth exploration of books, which often have only limited discussion on very specific topics. This level of detail may seem quite laborious, but it will act as an insurance policy that your research will not be constructed on a past knowledge that is either incorrect or incomplete. The explanation and identification of how the literature survey and data collection phases will be carried out is critical, as this is the point at which the research transitions to a new phase and becomes distinct from much of the research that has gone before it. Finally, a well-crafted literature review will also provide some discussion and evaluation of the current status of the evidence for a particular topic and will uncover potential methodological flaws and limitations in current research. This will also be fundamental in the development of your research, as addressing these limitations via your own methodology will greatly increase the relevance and impact of the research to the field. Therefore, with a systematic effort and a clear aim to do so, the literature review has the capability to be a fundamental piece of work in any research. It is important to realize that a literature review, like a research article, is a piece of work that is often regarded as very prestigious in academic circles and has the ability to change the way a particular topic is viewed. It is for this reason that anything less than a high-quality output of work is viewed as a failure, and it is past this notion that we start to experience some of the problems in translating the importance of the literature review to the student community.

3. Methods and Strategies for Conducting a Literature Review

Implementing the above recommendations will require some planning and organisation. A common approach to the process of writing a literature review is to start by conducting a preliminary search of your library’s databases using key words related to your topic. This will enable you to become more familiar with your topic and identify more sources. Once you have located a variety of different sources, you will need to decide which ones to use. It is suggested that you make a list of your search terms and search shorter, more focused questions one at a time rather than trying to research in too broad a content area to begin with. Keep a record of what you search and where you searched it, as well as how you decided which sources to use. This will be very useful information to include in your review itself. Keep in mind that it will be necessary to maintain flexibility within your search. You may find that some sources are not as helpful or relevant as you first thought, or conversely you may find others more helpful than you initially expected. It is important to control how much material is available on your topic. Generally, when it comes to writing the review you will have too much material and will need to synthesise the information so that it is concise and focussed. But it is equally harmful to have too little material, in which case you may need to broaden your search. In both cases, keeping a record of what you found useful or not and where you found it will be of immense use. A great time-saving strategy that I have found while researching and writing literature reviews is to set up a bibliographic management system to keep track of the articles you are using. There are many systems available such as Endnote, RefWorks, and ProCite. These programs will enable you to save and organise the details of the articles you have found as you search, and later enable you to cite these articles as they will automatically generate a bibliography as you write your review. However, one of the most important and effective strategies is also one of the simplest: creating a well-organised, annotated bibliography. This is a clear and succinct summary of the resource (less than 200 words) and a brief analysis of its relevance to your topic. It should be laid out in a systematic manner to make the adding and sorting of resources easy. Any categorisation system will be fine as long as it is one you can understand and use. Then, as you write your review, this full and rich resource of information can be updated and referred to often, ensuring your review has coherence and depth.

4. Analyzing and Synthesizing the Literature

Synthesis of literature is an important part of the whole literature review. It involves reviewing the research question and seeing if the conclusions the articles provide answer the question. Researchers will need to go back to the original research question and objective to see if key aims and objectives in the article help to answer the review’s research question. If relevant information is found, it is important to make note or critically evaluate the article in comparison to others. One way to synthesize information is to compare and contrast attributes of an article with others reviewed. A table can be made with separate headings as attributes, e.g. sample, methods, results, etc., and articles can be evaluated systematically. Although synthesis is primarily understanding information and rewriting it in a simpler format, it is at times difficult to understand where the line between plagiarism and interpretation of information is (Macaulay & Melluish, 2007). On some occasions, paraphrasing content can still be quite similar to the original content. At times, it is best to bring to the review a similar article or presentation of information in which any result or conclusion can be evaluated against the similar article. Results and conclusions are often the most important thing to understand, especially when considering the article in comparison with others.

The next step is analyzing the literature. During the process of writing a literature review, the focus is on the research question or objective. This is critically important in the analysis of literature as it is imperative to work with a research question or objective to work towards (Cronin et al., 2008). If articles are irrelevant to the research question, it is easier to disregard the article than to read and try to remember it. Using referencing software will help to achieve this task as it can filter through article titles and abstracts to find information on articles being stored on the computer. Items which are selected for the literature review should have some form of relevance to the research question. When looking at how to analyze before a review, Goldsworthy suggests that researchers working together reading through articles can highlight or note down on a separate piece of paper key things in the article relevant to the research question. This will then make it easier when referring back to articles when the review is being written. Although there is no right or wrong way to go about noting key things in articles, Goldsworthy’s method is acknowledged in that it is a method that can clarify the analysis for an article without notes being too complex.

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

The model itself is easily transferable to any university student who is required to write a research paper. Breaking it down into three different stages allows the student to manage their time effectively and be sufficiently prepared for all assessments. The model also takes into account the training of writing the literature review. As noted by Rowley and Slientze (1997), it is a fundamental skill for any research carried out at a university level. These students are able to then take these skills into their respective fields and use the review as a platform to explain various research endeavors.

The main idea from this model is the process of creating a literature review, which is broken down into three key stages (Rew and Bar, 1998). These stages provide a scale of readiness for carrying out the review, starting from the preparation of reviewing the literature all the way to a more informative stage where you are able to compare the ideas to your own review. This is crucial for higher degree students, for example, PhD or Masters by research, where the student essentially begins with a topic and a research question. This ensures that the review is not only completed, but completed to a standard that is satisfactory for an academic research paper.

The literature review is a critical look at the existing research that is significant to the work that you are carrying out. This overview identifies prominent ideas on your topic and/or primary findings in the area of interest. This section will review the conceptual model of writing a good literature review. The conceptual model addresses the importance of the process as well as some of the benefits of writing a good literature review.

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