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Literature Review: Work in Progress

Learning to Write a Systematic Review of Literature

Process of a Literature Review

The process of writing a literature review is not necessarily a linear process, you will often have to loop back and refine your topic, try new searches and altar your plans. The info graphic above illustrates this process.  It also reminds you to continually keep track of your research by citing sources and creating a bibliography.

  1. Topic - Decide on a research topic or question. The formulation of a thesis will help get your process started. This may have to be revisited as you work on your research.
    • Know what the review is for; each assignment will offer the purpose for the review.  For example, is it for “background”, or a “pro and con discussion”, "integration", “summarizing”, etc.
    • Create a “search plan”, decide where you will search for information, what type of information you will need.
  2. Research  - Preform Searches; choose sources and collect information to use in your paper. Make sure you cite the sources used.
  3. Think - Analyze information in a systematic manner and begin your literature review (e.g., summarize, synthesize, etc.). Make sure you cite the sources used.
  4. Complete - Write your paper, proof & revise and create your finished bibliography.

Analytic Reading

Analytic reading is when a skilled researcher evaluates their sources and evidence very carefully by asking questions of the readings.

For example, they ask such questions as:

  • What is the journal title and is it related to the topic?
    • For example, finding articles about crime in a Shakespearian Journal would not necessarily offer valid research for a criminal justice paper.
  • Who is the Author(s)? What do you know about them?
  • What is the purpose of the article?
    • For example, is it reporting on an experiment? a new theory? reviewing previous research? a literature review?
  • What is already know about this topic? Is it pointed on in the article?
  • Are there known gaps in research?
  • When and where were the studies carried out? Timeliness can be a consideration with research.
  • Who funded the research studies? Might I question the credibility of the work?
    • For example, what credence can be given to a study on African American IQs funded by the Ku Klux Klan?  Is this the ONLY study showing these results?
  • Who actually preformed the research?
  • Is there any reason to suspect that the methodology or the interpretation of the results were restrained by some authority?
    • For example, what should a researcher conclude about medical experiments performed in Nazi Germany?
  • Has the researcher overlooked any possible confounds or extraneous variables which could affect interpretations of the findings?
  • What were the political, socio-economic, religious, etc. conditions at the time of the research?
    • For example, a study correlating education levels and employment attained by African Americans during the 1930’s
  • What specific problem does this research address? Why is it important? How will it relate to my research?
  • Is the method used a good one? The best one? How does it compare with the other research I have found?
  • What are the specific findings?
  • Are the findings supported by persuasive evidence?
  • Is there an alternative interpretation of the data that the author did not address?
  • What specific problem does this research address? Why is it important?
  • How are the findings unique/new/unusual or supportive of other work in the field?
  • How do these results relate to the work I’m interested in? To other work I’ve read about?

When Deciding on a Topic

Too Big - Remember some topics demand more time, resources and effort than advisable for your paper. Too Trivial - Very new or very small focused topics can limit the amount of resources available for research. Too Difficult -Topics that are too big or broad can offer road blocks to research, Remember the size of your paper and find resource Too Boring - topics that are boring to you will most likely be hard to stay focused on, difficult to finish and be boring for others (like your professor) to read. Too Questionable - Ethically dubious research that will put people in harm or may be used to harm others should be avoided.