The Literature Review Process


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Describes what a literature review is and breaks down how to complete one in a step-by-step process.

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  • Guiding concept may be research objective, problem statement, thesis statement, etc.
  • What do we mean when we say it is “not a basic summative report?” – you should not just go article by article and simply write short descriptions of each article. It is a synthesis. A literature review is meant to be the product of more advanced study. Your final review needs to show that you analyzed the literature critically and organized each piece you include within a theme or argument. You probably won’t include every book or article you found on your topic; deciding what to include and what to leave out is part of your critical analysis
  • Regardless of the type of literature review you are doing – every lit review must do these four things
  • We will use this process with some adjustments – especially in the survey and critique sections. These two steps will be combined to make the process more understandable and more quickly usable in the time we have available.
  • If you are confused, be sure and ask for clarification on your assignment from your professor. Discussions with your professor outside of class can also result in identification of topics you did not think of.Talking about your ideas can help you clarify your thoughts. If you can’t explain your topic to someone in a coupld of sentences, you have not focused it enough.Academic journals, blogs, listservs, and associations are great places to look for topic ideas. Looking for what’s hot in your discipline can help you identify topics that will be of interest to other researchers, where there are gaps in the literature, and areas that are likely to have current research available. If you are interested in getting your research published, scanning the professional environment in your area can be especially useful.Focus focusfocus! You will probably be refining your topic as you search the literature and develop your lit review, BUT you should still start with as focused a topic as possible. This will save you time and help you write a more focused, cogent review.If you are doing the literature review for your dissertation, selecting a topic is a much bigger issue that we have time to cover here. Again, I would advise you speak with your professor, but there are also a lot of books available in the library about topic selection and refinement.
  • All academic disciplines have their own vocabulary that is sometimes difficult for students to understand at first. When you use the databases and are reading the literature in your field, pay attention to what terminology is used – what words are the authors using to describe concepts? These are the words you need to use when you search the databases. If you are not getting results relevant for your research topic, you are probably not using the best keywords for your search.` ` `` `
  • Remember this is an ongoing process. You should continue to monitor the literature at every step in the research process.
  • We often don’t think of literature reviews in terms of arguments. However, thinking about it and addressing lit reviews from this perspective ensures that you will be critically analyzing and synthesizing the literature rather than approaching it simplistically, falling into the trap of creating a summary of prior research
  • A lit review seeks to answer a research question. when beginning your lit review, analyze the type of data needed to answer your research question. Knowing the type of claim needed to answer your research question will let you know the kinds of arguments you need to be looking for as you gather and analyze the literature.
  • The Literature Review Process

    1. 1. The Literature Review Process <br />Annie Downey<br />
    2. 2. Purpose of the Literature Review<br />“A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a precondition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research.” – Boote and Beile, 2005<br />“you join[ing] the conversation –first by listening to what is being said and then formulating a comment designed to advance the dialogue.” – Bloomberg and Volpe, 2008 <br />
    3. 3. What a Literature Review IS<br />Develops your understanding of the literature in a field of study<br />A synthesis<br />A critical analysis and narrative<br />Current (and historical if necessary)<br />Defined by a guiding concept<br />
    4. 4. What a Literature Review CAN BE<br />Part of a larger research study (like a thesis or dissertation), the literature review…<br />Sets the broad context of the study<br />Sets the scope of the study<br />Justifies the scope and context of the study<br />Establishes the theoretical framework<br />Justifies the methodology of the study<br />Makes an argument<br />
    5. 5. What a Literature Review CAN BE<br />A standalone assignment for a class<br />Part of the introduction to a paper for a class or a journal article<br />A full article published in an academic journal<br />Basic or advanced<br />
    6. 6. What a Literature Review is NOT<br />It is not an annotated bibliography<br />It is not just a descriptive list<br />It is not a basic summative report of what you've read on the topic – you need to be saying something<br />
    7. 7. What a Literature Review Must Do<br />Be ORGANIZED around your thesis statement or research question(s)<br />SYNTHESIZE results into a summary of what is known and not know on your topic<br />Identify areas of CONTROVERSY<br />Formulate questions for FURTHER RESEARCH<br />
    8. 8. A Few Considerations<br />If your literature review is part of an original research study, read about your chosen methodology to determine when you should review the literature<br />For some methods, the literature should be reviewed before, during, or after data collection<br />
    9. 9. The Literature Review Process<br />From The Literature Review (2009) by Machi and McEvoy<br />
    10. 10. Select a Topic<br />Read your assignment carefully!<br />Ask for clarification from professor <br />Talk over your ideas with someone<br />Scan academic journals<br />Read professional blogs and listservs<br />Look for Research Agendas on professional association websites<br />Focus your topic<br />
    11. 11. Search the Literature<br />Types of sources that can be included:<br />Books, Articles, Abstracts, Reviews, Dissertations and theses, Research reports, Websites, Films, Etc.<br />Identify the most important / useful databases for your discipline<br />Develop an understanding of the academic terminology for your field of study<br />Determine time frame<br />
    12. 12. Look for empirical and theoretical literature<br />Include primary and secondary sources<br />Identify classic or seminal studies <br />Identify important authors who are contributing to the development of your topic<br />Use a system to organize and manage material<br />From the very beginning<br />RefWorks or other bibliographic management software<br /> Search the Literature<br />
    13. 13. Develop your Argument<br />This step is a planning step – you will develop these arguments in the next two steps: surveying and critiquing the literature<br />“you must build a case for what is known about your topic and determine how this knowledge addresses the research question.” – Machi and McEvoy, 2009<br />Develop two types of arguments:<br />Argument of discovery – develop findings that present the current state of knowledge about your research interest<br />Argument of advocacy – analyze and critique the knowledge gained from developing the argument of discovery to answer the research question<br />
    14. 14. Develop your Argument<br />Analyze the claims within the literature to develop your arguments<br />Claim – the argument’s declaration or assertion<br />Evidence – data that define and support the claim<br />Types of claims<br />Fact <br />Worth<br />Policy<br />Concept<br />Interpretation<br />You must present all sides of a question; your argument must be balanced <br />
    15. 15. + Survey and Critique the Literature<br />Develops the discovery argument and the advocacy argument<br />Answers the questions: <br />“What do we know about the subject of our study?”<br />“Based on what we know, what conclusions can we draw about the research question?”<br />Critically assess each piece of literature you have gathered to analyze its content<br />You need to be:<br />Methodical<br />Systematic<br />Rigorous<br />Consistent<br />
    16. 16. + Survey and Critique the Literature<br />Stage 1: Skim and Read<br />Skim first – note topic, structure, general reasoning, data, and bibliographical references<br />Go back and skim the prefaced and introduction, trying to identify main ideas contained in the work<br />Identify key parts of the article or key chapters in books<br />
    17. 17. + Survey and Critique the Literature<br />Stage 2: Highlight and Extract Key Elements<br />Trying to understand historical context and current state<br />Identify themes, trends, patterns<br />Also looking for gaps and anomalies<br />Key questions to ask of the literature:<br />What are the origins and definitions of the topic?<br />What are the key theories, concepts, and ideas?<br />What are the major debates, arguments, and issues?<br />What are the key questions and problems that have been addressed to date?<br />Are there any important issues that have been insufficiently addressed to date?<br />
    18. 18. + Survey and Critique the Literature<br />When analyzing research studies, must also identify some of the key elements that all research studies should include:<br />Problem<br />Purpose<br />Research questions<br />Sample<br />Methodology<br />Key findings<br />Conclusions<br />Recommendations<br />
    19. 19. Write the Review<br />Use the results of your analysis and critique of the literature to develop the organization of your review<br />Develop a detailed outline<br />Identify the themes and/or patterns that have emerged <br />Translate these into headings and subheadings<br />Be sure your outline is logical<br />Be selective with the literature you include<br />
    20. 20. Write the Review<br />Synthesis synthesissynthesis!<br />Reorganize and reassemble all of the separate pieces and details to create an integrated whole<br />Make connections between and among ideas and concepts<br />Never present a chain of isolated summaries of previous studies<br />The synthesis needs to build a knowledge base AND extend new lines of thinking<br />Remember – this is your entry into the conversation<br />
    21. 21. Write the Review<br />Writing a literature review is a creative activity<br />“An imaginative approach to searching and reviewing the literature includes having a broad view of the topic; being open to new ideas, methods, and arguments; ‘playing’ with different ideas to see whether you can make new linkages; and following ideas to see where they might lead.” – Bloomberg and Volpe, 2008<br />
    22. 22. References<br />Bloomberg, L.D. and M. Volpe (2008). Completing your Qualitative Dissertation: A Roadmap from Beginning to End. Los Angeles: Sage<br />Machi, L.E. and B.T. McEvoy ( 2009). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Sage.<br />For help and questions:<br />