P503 Introduction to Research Literature Search and Review What is a Literature Review? A literature review summarizes, interprets, and evaluates existing literature” (or published material) in order to establish current knowledge of a subject. It is not a book review, but a survey of a particular subject. The purpose of a literature review is to provide an overview of published research on a topic. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research problem statement or question). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries. A literature review must do these things: 1. be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing 2. synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known 3. identify areas of controversy in the literature 4. formulate questions that need further research How do I evaluate the resources I find? Below is a 3-step process for reviewing any piece of literature: Step 1: Decide whether the topic is relevant to your research problem. If it is, determine whether it’s a research report or an opinion. (A research report will contain terms such as study, analysis, survey, experiment, or results). Data, or results, from a research report lend evidence to your research problem. Opinion pieces can lend support to your rationale, as well, but the bulk of your literature review will contain research reports. Step 2: Make a cursory inspection of the report by considering its source of publication, author(s), and general tone of its concluding paragraphs. Eliminate studies that are not worth more thorough evaluation. For example, they may not be tied closely enough to your research problem statement, or the research may not appear to be entirely accurate. Step 3: Study each of the articles thoroughly, using the checklist below: Evaluating a Literature Source Can’t Yes No Comments Tell Problem statement adequately described Problem Statement Research statement clearly stated Related research presented Limitations stated Assumptions stated Research hypotheses clearly stated Variables logical and related Research Design Population defined and appropriate Sample appropriately selected Research design appropriate Data collection procedure adequate Data analysis procedure appropriate Findings labeled and reported Results Conclusions stated and reasonable Implications logical and related Now that I’ve gathered and evaluated resources, how do I write the review? In general, a literature review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. It’s usually a bad sign to see every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question. I. Writing the Introduction A. Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature. B. Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest. C. Establish the writer’s reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope). D. Use of the first person voice is allowed, because the review is more personal than a research paper on the topic. Example: I observed the negative political advertising directed at less affluent voters during my volunteer work for a senatorial election campaign. II. Writing the Body A. Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc. B. Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance. Provide more than a brief citation of the study and its research. Poor Example: A five-year study was conducted by Wallace to compare immigration and educational levels (2001). Good Example: Wallace (2001) concluded that educational levels of new immigrants to the United States varied by continent and age. The importance of the study is in its length and intensity. The study covered several years and major urban areas. C. Provide the reader with strong “umbrella” sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, “signposts” throughout, and brief “so what” summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses. D. The review should be presented in essay form and should not be a list of the resources used in researching the topic. Example: “. . . as it appeared in Smith (1997), ‘The use of in-house staff development training has been less successful at the managerial level. “(p. 69). Jones (2000) states that all the literature on the subject during the last decade emphasizes a need for new training methods for upper level management. Hale and Greenleaf agree that few training programs have proven effective over time (Hale & Greenleaf 1999; Ratliff 2000). E. Feel free to express opinions about the quality of the literature being cited. That is a part of the review process. III. Writing the Conclusion A. Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction. B. Evaluate the current “state of the art” for the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study. C. Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession. APA Style Use the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual. Plain and simple. All writing you’ll do in the social sciences uses the APA Publication Manual’s rules for style in both writing and citations. Learn it. Do it.
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