Before you start any serious research you must undertake a literature review, i.e. seek out existing research that has been done on your topic and evaluate it. What you are required to produce as a literature as a literature review will vary according to your academic subject and length of project. Make sure you seek guidance from your tutor.
The literature review:
- Provides the academic context for your proposed research.
- Ensures that you do not replicate any previous research - your work needs to be original.
- Contributes to increasing your knowledge of your chosen subject and suggests new avenues for you to explore.
- Lends validity and substance to your contribution by referencing the work of recognized authorities in the field.
- Allows you to examine previously used research methodologies.
You should be aware that in some subject areas the literature review has to be produced as a separate piece of work and is marked accordingly. A review also forms a required part of grant and research proposals and should be a crucial element in your thesis.
The review is not merely a description of past research, it must be a critical evaluation, i.e. what is your view of past research? How does it relate to your research proposal? You must show insight and awareness of differing arguments and methodologies. You must identify research themes in the literature or analyse papers according to alternative methodologies for comparison. What are the strengths and weaknesses in the research you are reviewing? Where are the gaps in the research? A good literature review is comprehensive, critical and informative.
Try and consult primary sources Keyword Definition original texts, such as a journal article giving an account of research carried out by the authors of the article. Another example would be an autobiography, photograph, film. where possible. You should conclude it by demonstrating how your proposed study will contribute to the current literature.
In order to carry out an in-depth review of the literature you must consult many sources. It is essential that you have the skills to identify the necessary information effectively and manage it properly to avoid plagiarism and time wasted trying to find papers you have mis-placed! Make sure you are familiar with the research techniques described in the Advanced Research Skills sections. In addition tips on note-taking and bibliographic management are also useful.
Consult as many sources as possible, but make sure that they are academically valid and relevant to your topic. Use the Library’s academic databases as the place to start searching. Watch the following presentation about conducting a literature review.
As your literature review must be as comprehensive as possible you may wish to use the Library’s Inter Library Loan service. You can use this service to order books or journal articles which are not in Library stock.
Structure Of The Review
- Describe the purpose of the review, i.e. the subject you are investigating and why?
- Describe the structure or outline of your review, i.e. the order of main topics covered.
- Explain the criteria you have used to analyse and compare the literature.
- If you have decided to exclude certain categories of literature explain why, e.g. not anecdotal accounts, not articles in foreign languages or unscientific findings.
- Discuss the main points that you identified in your review.
- Group together authors with similar or related findings/methodologies and compare and contrast with those that differ for each point.
- Critically analyse each piece of literature and state how you view its significance.
- Show how each point relates to your own research arguments.
- Use the first sentence of each paragraph to draw attention to its content. As you proceed, use ‘signposts’ to show the direction you are heading in and then create a logical path through to your conclusion.
- Summarise how what you have read has contributed to the topic under review, drawing particular attention to the most significant studies. Make sure that it relates to what you have outlined in your introduction.
- Evaluate the current state of development of your topic, pointing out any major gaps or methodological flaws in previous research. It is important to point out any inconsistencies in existing theories and findings.
- Point out areas or issues worthy of future study which you might pursue.
- Relate the topic of the literature review to the larger academic discipline.
Review what you have written, ask yourself the following questions and amend as appropriate:
- Have you included sufficient evidence to support your views?
- Does the argument flow in a logical manner through the main points?
- Do you relate the points mentioned to your own arguments and proposed research?
- Is the English and grammar appropriate and correct?