Three Important Tips for Your Literature Review
The What, When and Why
A literature review summarizes and discusses published information centered around a particular subject. Rather than a simple summary, literature reviews possess an organizational pattern, combining the summary and synthesis of arguments presented in primary academic research articles without adding new contributions.
Typically, literature reviews are written to provide a convenient guide to a topic, a handy tool which gives an overview of particular research, aiding professionals to keep up to date with their field and providing a background for a research paper’s investigation. Additionally, they serve you, the author, to develop the methodology and framework for your own research and pinpoint any gaps in research for where to focus your efforts.
Literature reviews are essential for grant writing. When identifying and seeking new funding, a literature review is integral to identify the questions left from existing research and to identify those areas where additional research is needed (in turn justifying your own research). Additionally, literature reviews serve to bring clarity and focus to your research, establishing credibility for you to conduct the study proposed in your grant proposal.
Tip #1: How to Start
Arguably the hardest part, starting, can be a daunting task. Beginning by first defining your topic and making sure it is sufficiently narrow will help direct your research and focus. The narrower the topic addressed within your literature review, the easier it will be to narrow down the sources and find worthwhile material.
It is important to make sure the scope of your topic is not too large, so that you may can feasibly accomplish the writing. It is useful to identify a few target journals, unless you have been invited to write the review for a specific journal, and make sure you understand their requirements for review papers, e.g., maximum length and number of sources.
Tip #2 Creating an Annotated Bibliography
An annotated bibliography is a list of collected references, including articles, books, websites, related to the topic of your literature review. Follow each citation with a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph. When you go on to define trends in the collected research and construct your outline, the annotated bibliography will serve to inform you of the relevance and information contained within the cited source.
As you construct the annotated bibliography, make sure to be concise, evaluative, critical and comparative. This will aid to ensure you fully glean the relevant information from each article and be immensely helpful as you move onto the next step, identifying trends in research and construction of an outline.
Tip #3: Organization and structure
After the creation of an annotated bibliography, you should begin to identify themes, debates and gaps in the primary research in order to grasp connections and relationships between the information you’ve collected. Look for trends related to – chronology, themes, debates, methodology, gaps or weakness. After you have identified the trend or trends, draft an outline of your literature review organized based on reoccurring themes (e.g., trace the chronological development of the research identifying key debates and turning points). Be cautious here to not just create a list.
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