In order to understand your topic, before you conduct your research, it is extremely important to immerse yourself in the research that has been done on your topic and the topics that might be adjacent to your particular research interest or questions. “a researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field” (Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 3). Essentially, When writing a thesis or research proposal, the review of the literature would be your Chapter 2.
Frankly, the literature review is often the first major challenge of the writing process. Sometimes, the task to review and synthesize all of the previous research on and around your topic can feel overwhelming. Although the literature review is foundational to situate your research within the body of literature on your topic, there is almost no literature on the challenges and pitfalls of writing a literature review (Randolph, 2009).
Boote and Beile (2005) reveal through their research on dissertation writing, that although a sophisticated literature review is essential for substantial research, they are often poorly written and lack organizational structure and conceptual relevance. So, the question is, how can you write a literature that is well-organized, comprehensive and situate your research within the literature?
Onweugbuzie et al. (2012) identify 23 core components of an effective literature review in their research and are referred to as the standard checklist for most empirical researchers. The list includes the following:
How to complete a literature review
Fair Warning: The literature review is often time-consuming and can feel like an endless process. Don’t Give Up! It is the first major hurdle of the research proposal process. Once you have completed the literature review, you will have a good idea of what is significant, relevant and novel about your research. The key is to spend time reading, recording important findings, and organizing the scholarly literature on (and around) your topic.
At this point, it is important to distinguish between scholarly literature and other sources. You need to keep in mind that you are only reviewing scholarly literature, which includes sources and studies that have a clear methodology, empirical evidence, results and conclusions. These studies are PEER-REVIEWED, meaning, contemporaries in the field have reviewed the research methods and findings of the literature, and found them relevant, significant, authentic and valid (Wakefield, 2015).
Where do you begin? Great question.
According to Randolph (2009), the goal of a literature review is to integrate and generalize findings across studies, debate findings within a field, resolve the debate, and discuss the language specific to the field. For a meta-analysis, which is a common strategy for a literature review, the goal is largely to integrate quantitative findings across the research on the topic. For other strategies to complete the literature review, the goals may be to critically analyze previous studies, identify central themes or issues within the existing literature or analyze an argument in the field (Randolph, 2009). In literature reviews for dissertation, the goal is to largely interrogate and analyze the current findings to find weaknesses or contradictions in order to place your study within the context of the current literature and to justify your study’s relevance. So in essence, the goals of literature review, regardless of the strategy, are not only to deal with the central theme across the literature and to present a thematic analysis of that literature, but also, and perhaps more importantly, it is to focus on whether the body of knowledge is credible, reliable and valid based on the methodological approaches and outcomes of the literature in the field (Wakefield, 2015).
A few initial steps are:
Think about adding “Kean University” to your library link within your Google Scholar Settings. You will be able to gain full access to “full text” articles while searching in Google Scholar.
If you identify a source (article or book) that is not available through Kean University’s library collections, you may submit an Interlibrary Loan request. Book or article records found in the WorldCat Discovery database will feature an Interlibrary Loan request option. However, you may also utilize the Interlibrary Loan form.
You may also use the VALE Reciprocal Borrowing Program, which enables Kean University students and faculty to check out books from libraries at other New Jersey colleges and universities. To participate in this program, a researcher must first obtain a signed "VALE Reciprocal Borrowing Application Form" from the Nancy Thompson Learning Commons before they can borrow at one of the participating libraries.
What are the sources that are appropriate for a literature review? According to Garrard (2009) and others scientific or empirical research refers to the:
…theoretical and research publications in scientific journals, reference books, government practice, policy statements, and other materials
about the theory, practice, and results of scientific inquiry. These materials and publications are produced by individuals or groups in
universities, foundations, government research laboratories, and other nonprofit or for-profit organizations (p.4).
Onwuegbuzie et al. (2010; as cited in Onwuegbuzie et al., 2012) goes further and describes the literature that could be included in a literature review, “research articles,… essays, article reviews, monographs, dissertations, books, Internet websites, video, interview transcripts, encyclopedias, company reports, trade catalogues, government documents, congressional/parliamentary bills…” (p. 7). However, Onwuegbuzie et al. (2012) builds on this definition, by saying that a literature review is largely, “a systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars and practitioners” (p.3).
So, what does this mean for you, the researcher and author of the literature review? You want to use multiple source types. Additionally, stick to the parameters laid out by Onwuegbuzie et al. (2012) in that the literature reviewed should be an evaluation and synthesis of the existing work completed by “researchers, scholars and practitioners.” The list of sources should be semi-exhaustive and representative of the field.
Next, you should:
3. Evaluate and select your sources. Read the abstract first to see if the source is relevant to your topic (Wakefield, 2015; Denney & Tewksbury, 2013; Randolph, 2009).
|Tip: While reading your sources, take notes and keep track of what each article says:
|Tip: Creating a Literature Review Matrix is a helpful way to keep track of your sources. Including title, author, topic(s), methods and findings, as well as direct quotes that you think might be meaningful to your literature review would be helpful. Also, it would be important to note how you retrieved your source so that, theoretically, other researchers could replicate your literature review (Randolph, 2009).|
Organizing your Literature Review:
Outline your literature review- how do you want it organized? You are “synthesizing” the literature as your purpose here. What structure works best for your topic and study? The most common formats are (Randolph, 2009; Onwuegbuzie et al., 2012):
|Tip: Be sure to structure your literature review so it makes sense to you. You can organize it thematically, chronologically, methodically or any other way that works for you and your understanding of the topic.|
Let’s talk about synthesis.
A literature review is not only a review of the empirical research, but it is also evaluation and synthesis of the research. Boote and Beile (2005) have created a five- category list for evaluating a literature review. The categories are coverage, synthesis, methodology, significance, and rhetoric.
Synthesis is difficult - you need to articulate what this literature means for your research and/or how does the literature inform the purpose, impact, methodology of your study? Rather than summarizing, the idea behind synthesis is taking the information you have discussed and drawing your own conclusions, making connections between the literature and your study.
Boote, D. N., & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3699805
Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 24(2), 218-234. https://doi-org.kean.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/10511253.2012.730617
Garrard, J. (2009). Health sciences literature review made easy: The matrix method. Jones and Bartlett.
Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Leech, N. L., & Collins, K. M. (2012). Qualitative analysis techniques for the review of the literature. Qualitative Report, 17(28), 1-28.
Randolph, J. (2009). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 14(1), 13.
Wakefield, A. (2015). Synthesising the literature as part of a literature review. Nursing Standard, 29(29), 44-51. https://doi.org/10.7748/ns.29.29.44.e8957