A literature review is both a summary and synthesis of scholarly published research on a particular topic. It should explain to your readers what knowledge and ideas have been established on the topic, along with their strengths and weaknesses.
Literature reviews are important because they are usually a required step in a thesis proposal. They also help you learn important authors, researchers and ideas in your field.
A Literature Review Synthesis Matrix can be a helpful when synthesizing themes and ideas.
Literature reviews can be a subsection or a stand alone bibliographic essay.
Suggestions for Conducting the Literature Review
Literature Reviews: Books
This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint.
Probably the most common form of review in the social sciences, the integrative review is a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way so that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of the literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems.
Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context.
A review does not always focus on what someone said, but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels, how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.
This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"
The purpose of this form is to concretely examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review help establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.
Decide how to organize your reviews
Since one of the purposes of the literature reviews is to provide an overview and synthesis of the information you read, grouping similar articles can provide structure to your overview.
Examples of ways to organize a literature review:
North Carolina State University, Bluford Library. (2015). Literature Review - Libquide. Retrieved from http://libguides.library.ncat.edu/content.php?pid=122999&sid=1232021.
Once you have decided on the organization structure of your literature review, create an outline. An outline is a good way to organize you ideas, articles, quotations and references.
Create the outline based on your organization. If you have organized your review chronologically, label time periods that mark changes in the history of your topic. Example:
1. Origins 1970s
As you begin reading the articles, whenever you find a good quote, mark it with the part of the outline in which it fits. Make note of the author, year and page number whenever you run across something in your reading that falls into a subsection in your review outline.
Guides for Conducting Literature Reviews