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COMM U375 - Communication Research Methods: Literature Review

A Course Guide for all sections of Communication Research Methods: COMM U375

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review is a systematic and comprehensive analysis of books, scholarly articles and other sources relevant to a specific topic providing a base of knowledge on a topic. Literature reviews are designed to identify and critique the existing literature on a topic to justify your research by exposing gaps in current research.  This investigation should provide a description, summary, and critical evaluation of works related to the research problem and should also add to the overall knowledge of the topic as well as demonstrating how your research will fit within a larger field of study.  A literature review should offer critical analysis of the current research on a topic and that analysis should direct your research objective. This should not be confused with a book review or an annotated bibliography both research tools but very different in purpose and scope.  A Literature Review can be a stand alone element or part of a larger end product, know your assignment.  Key to a good Literature Review is to document your process.

Literature Review LibGuide

Elements in a Literature Review

Critical Evaluation

The critical evaluation of each work should consider:  Provenance- Who is the author and where was it published? What are the author’s credentials? Was it published in a reputable source? Were the author’s arguments supported by evidence? (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, or recent scientific findings) Methodology – what were the methods used in the research for the materials? Were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported? Objectivity – was objectivity used in the research Is the author’s perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or ignored? Persuasiveness & Value – determine weight of each source Art the author’s arguments and conclusions convincing? Which of the author’s theses are most/least convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

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.

Bibliographies in books & textbooks References in articles (also see "References Available" search option in some databases) Searches in article databases Other literature reviews or review articles Key authors or studies that have been cited