How to Write the Literature Review
Many college students sometimes find themselves at a loss on how to go about writing the literature review. This is partly due to their being neophytes in the field of research and partly due to their lack of knowledge on how it is being done.
This article sheds light on this common encounter of the college student taking up research as a subject or in the process of developing a research topic.
Why is the literature review needed?
The literature review is one of the essential steps in coming up with a good research output. This step, in fact, is crucial in defining the direction of a research study.
Essentially, the literature review is done by researchers to prevent duplication of work on a particular research topic. This duplication is often referred to as “reinventing the wheel” or in other words doing something which has already been done by another researcher. This leads to a waste of scarce resources like time, money, as well as effort.
What is the nature of a literature review?
The literature review sheds light on the particular issue or problem being explored for further investigation. It cites the findings of scientists on the research subject in the form of published papers in reputable sources such as peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Scientific journals are better reference than books because journals are “raw” compilations of materials while books are the “digested” presentation of the findings subscribing to the author’s own interpretation of things or biases. Further, books take time to publish while scientific journals are much more updated.
Peer-reviewed means the published paper has gone through a group of specialists on the subject, noting down their criticisms during its draft form. The peer review process somehow “filters” the draft manuscript making sure that original work comes out of it.
Findings in one particular subject, especially if the subject area is new, are not always exhaustive. There will always be gaps in information or questions that need to be resolved. These gaps in information opens the way for further investigation, and this is where new research is undertaken.
How is a literature review structured?
The literature review is not a random discussion of previous findings. Rather, it is a logical presentation of the progress made in the subject area of interest. It need not be chronological but should point out how the findings are interrelated. Does the research finding of one author confirm or refute an argument or position? This is where theory testing or theory building occurs.
Once an exhaustive or sound literature review has been made, it is then possible to formulate one’s own conceptual framework, founded on the previous findings. New variables may be introduced to constitute a new order of investigation – the paradigm of the research study. The research paradigm outlines the variables and their relationships with each other. It is here where the independent and the dependent variables are identified (see the difference between the theoretical and the conceptual framework).
Final tips on literature review
It is not easy for a novice researcher to come up with a well-written literature review. This requires critical and logical thinking entailing hours of reading relevant materials and pondering the findings. With practice and diligence, however, a researcher becomes a veteran who has become all too familiar with his area of research interest able to focus on what published materials matter and what do not.
©Patrick A. Regoniel 31 January 2011 How to Write the Literature Review