What is a Literature Review and Why Should You Do It?
A literature review is:
- a summary and evaluation of the significant research and/or theory published on a topic
- organized in a way that analyzes, integrates, and shows the relationship between research studies, as well as the way each has contributed to an understanding of the topic
- Not just an annotated bibliography
The purpose of a literature review is to:
- provide an overview of relevant literature, research, and methodology in an area of study
- explore relationships among the prior research
- evaluate the prior research
- identify gaps and discrepancies in the literature
- identify areas of controversy in the literature
- make an argument for why further study of your research question is important to a field
Benefits to the researcher:
- Establishing context and significance of the problem
- Discovering appropriate subject vocabulary
- Identifying methodologies
- Identifying what has been researched and where gaps may be found – underused methodologies, designs, populations
- Focusing research topic
Evaluate your articles by asking yourself some of these questions:
- What is the methodology?
- What is the quality of the findings or conclusions?
- What are the article’s major strengths and weaknesses?
- What beliefs are expressed/is there an ideological stance?
- Can the results be generalized?
- How does this fit in and compare with other articles I have read?
Writing the Review
The literature review should deal with relationships – how do the articles relate to each other? How do the articles relate to your research?
In the literature review:
- Explain the reason for reviewing the literature; explain why particular literature was included or excluded
- Summarize the major contributions of the significant articles
- Evaluate and compare the articles
- Evaluate the current state of the research -- explain inconsistencies in theory or conclusions, gaps in research, trends in what has been published, and opportunities for further research
- Do not just summarize the articles
Ways to organize:
- By theoretical approaches
- By concept or issue
- By methodologies employed
- By chronology, if significant changes in thought have taken place
- Use subheadings to clarify the structure
- Use original sources -- do not cite works you have not read
- Minimize direct quotations by summarizing in your own words (with citations)
- Use appropriate quotation and citation methods to avoid plagiarism