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How-to develop a Literature Review

The process

The process of writing a literature review usually covers the following steps:

  1. Define your Research question
  2. Plan your approach to your research and your review
  3. Search the Literature
  4. Analyze the material you’ve found
  5. Managing the results of your research
  6. Writing your Review

A literature review should be guided by a central research question.  Remember, it is not a collection of loosely related studies in a field but instead represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

Tips:

One of the hardest parts of a literature review is to develop a good research question.  You don't want a research question that is so broad it encompasses too many research areas, and can't be reasonably answered. 

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?

Defining your topic may require an initial review of literature on your topic to get a sense of the scope about your topic.   Select a topic of interest, and do a preliminary search to see what kinds of research is being done and what is trending in that topic area.  This will give you a better sense of the topic, and help you focus your research question

  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.

In specifying your topic or research question, you should think about setting appropriate limitations on the research you are seeking. Limiting, for example, by time, personnel, gender, age, location, nationality etc. results in a more focused and meaningful topic. 

  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor.

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

Tip: This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

Make a list of the databases you will search.  Remember to include comprehensive databases such as WorldCat and Dissertations & Theses, if you need to.

You can find a list of link to ODU databases in the next section Finding Information

  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Write down the searches you conduct in each database so that you may duplicate them if you need to later (or avoid dead-end searches that you'd forgotten you'd already tried).
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Ask your professor or a scholar in the field if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Use a citation manager (Endnote, Zotero,....)  to keep track of your research citations. See in the left menu the section Citing your Sources

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions. Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited?; if so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Again, review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence
A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid.

Be Selective
Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information but that are not key to understanding the research problem can be included in a list of further readings.

Use Quotes Sparingly
Some short quotes are okay if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for your own summary and interpretation of the literature.

Summarize and Synthesize
Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work.

Keep Your Own Voice
While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording.

Use Caution When Paraphrasing
When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

 

From Literature review: Conducting & Writing https://libguides.uwf.edu/c.php?g=215199&p=1420520