HOW TO APPROACH YOUR LITERATURE REVIEW
There are five stages to your literature review:
- Find models
- Problem formulation – which topic is under consideration and what are the constituent issues?
- Literature search
- Evaluation of findings
- Analysis and interpretation of literature
Look for other literature reviews in your discipline and read them to get an idea of the types of themes you might want to include in your research or ways in which you could organise your final review. You can do a database search to find models – put the words “literature review” along with your keywords to retrieve references to articles of this type
You should try to construct a working statement that will form the basis of your literature review. The statement does not have to argue for a position or an opinion. It will rather argue for a particular slant on the material.
The literature search will help you identify scope and key issues. Efficient searching will help you: • Identify which authors are interested in your specialism and those who take a generalist’s view. • Trace authors who are prominent in your subject and who can help you justify the importance of your research idea. • Include the authors would or could contradict your ideas.
Evaluation of findings
Reading research articles is different from other types of reading. You must develop a good understanding of the research literature to be able to write a competent literature review. Understanding the literature requires you to read, re-read and assimilate complex ideas. Read the easier articles first Difficult or badly written articles will probably be easier to understand if you read them last when you have gained familiarity with your subject.
Scan the article
For the preliminary scan, don’t read the articles closely so as to avoid getting mired in detail. It may help to note down the key points for each article.
- When reading you should keep the following in mind: What are the authors’ academic reputation?
- Identify the research question and the specific hypotheses, the findings and how the findings were interpreted.
- Are the authors objective or does their work appear to have a particular bias?
- Is contrary data considered and discussed or is it ignored?
5 Analysis and interpretation of the literature
After you have an idea of the main ideas in each article, identify the precise methods used and the theories tested. When you are comparing the work of a number of researchers some of whom have a different take on the problems of the research question, you will need to have an in-depth understanding of their work. A close reading may reveal differences in theoretical outlook. How do different authors cite the same work? One author may explain the method of an earlier study, describe its results in great detail and cite it repeatedly while another may give it only a passing reference.
Allow enough time
Before you can write about your research project you must have evaluated the existing literature properly so do allow yourself sufficient time to do this.
Writing the Literature Review
Number of articles reviewed Published review articles may contain more than a hundred studies. You may wish to consult your supervisor about how far you should go back in time and how many articles you want to include. Organisation There are a number of different approaches to organising a literature review so again do consult your supervisor before beginning the work. You could use the following method:
- Introduce your research question (what it is, why it is worth examining)
- Narrow research question to the studies discussed.
- Briefly outline the organisation of the paper. If there is a major controversy, describe it and explain that you will present research supporting one side and then the other.
- Or, if three methodologies have been used to address a question, briefly describe them and say that you will compare the results obtained by the three methods
- Describe studies in detail
- Compare and evaluate studies.
- Discuss the implications of the studies and how you intend to build on them