Friday, February 27, 2015

Literature Reviews

So . . .you’ve reached the point where you need to compose a literature review.

The purpose of a literature review is two-fold: to familiarize yourself with the available secondary materials related to your choice of topic and to place your work in context with the already vast research into your topic. This purpose directly impacts the content of your literature review; specifically, your literature review will be made up of summary and analysis.

Many people ask: How much of my literature review consists of summary versus analysis? ANSWER: There is no set answer to this question. What I can tell you is that a common error is to treat the literature review like an annotated bibliography. By this I mean, many people will write a summary paragraph for every secondary source that they find and then paste all of these summaries together. Avoid this error!

When it comes to sitting down and writing your literature review, many resources recommend a similar strategy:
1. Read and understand a piece of research

2. Compose a summary of the research
** This summary is strictly for yourself – it is not being put into the literature review . . . yet

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for every secondary source that you have found 
**Only after you have read all of the research do you begin to analyze various sources and begin to identify a strategy for organizing your content in your literature review – such as chronological, thematic, or methodological
**Only after you have read all of the research do you begin to analyze various sources and begin to identify a strategy for organizing your content in your literature review – such as chronological, thematic, or methodological 
**Only after you have read all of the research do you begin to analyze various sources and begin to identify a strategy for organizing your content in your literature review – such as chronological, thematic, or methodological 
**Only after you have read all of the research do you begin to analyze various sources and begin to identify a strategy for organizing your content in your literature review – such as chronological, thematic, or methodological 
**Only after you have read all of the research do you begin to analyze various sources and begin to identify a strategy for organizing your content in your literature review – such as chronological, thematic, or methodological
4. Organize your summaries
** Depending on your organization strategy, you may need only bits and pieces of some notes, or you may need entire summary paragraphs that you’ve composed.
** When you organize this information, do not put them into paragraph form yet.

5. Analyze and evaluate your research
** According to Walden University, this step should include:
·      Discussing strengths and weaknesses of sources or the field
·      Compare and contrast methods, approaches, and findings of authors
·      Evaluate and interpret what is known in your field and what, if anything, is missing
·      Provide rationale for why each is a part of your literature review and what role each plays within your field.
Remember: a crucial feature of the literature review involves contextualizing your research, or positioning your study within your field.


Another common question: how many secondary sources do I need to include in my literature review? ANSWER: It depends. Are you writing a literature review as part of your proposal/prospectus? Are you writing a literature review as part of your thesis or dissertation? Are you writing a stand-alone literature review?


If you are writing either a stand-alone literature review or a literature review for your proposal/prospectus, then you should prioritize the most recent sources related to your topic – in order to emphasize your familiarity with recent data, arguments, and trends – and sources that are considered the definitive work done on the topic – a.k.a. the sources that all other sources cite on their references page.


If you are writing a literature review for your thesis or dissertation, then there is no limit on the number of sources that you might include in a literature review.

Don’t forget that your literature review chapter will require an introduction and conclusion.

Since I am a graduate student in the English department, I would be remiss if I didn’t add the last step– proofread! If you would like help with this, I recommend visiting the Writing Center (click here for hours) or coming to the Thesis and Dissertation office during office hours (Monday through Thursday 10am until 2pm).  

There are numerous models online (too many to include here) that can be found through a simple search if you wish to see an example of a literature review in your field.

Feel free to post a comment if you have any additional questions or concerns about writing a literature review, or feel free to consult the resources listed below.



Resources-
-       Writing a literature review according to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (click here)
-       How to write a literature review according to the University of Wisconsin - Madison (click here)
-       Step-by-step explanation of how to write a literature review according to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (click here)


-       Literature reviews according to Walden University (click here)

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