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College & Research Libraries Guide for Authors & Reviewers

Function

Every research report requires a thorough review of the literature related to the research questions, the method, and background pertinent to the study.

The review of the literature is an essential tool for structuring and executing the project. Individuals undertaking a formal study should become familiar with work that has gone before that can help inform the work, including pieces that have addressed the fundamental question in some way (as research, commentary, or opinion). This enhances the author's understanding of the problem to be addressed, as well as methods to answer the research questions.

The literature review is a vital component of the project. It demonstrates to readers that the author is aware of the complex dynamics of work that has preceded what the author is undertaking. Authors must show that relevant prior work is accounted for, incorporated, or even negated.

The literature review should be critical insofar as it provides a setting for the research that will be executed. As such, the review is a part of the narrative flow of the paper.

Structure

The literature review does not:

  • catalog sources chronologically
  • collect quotes and paraphrasing from other sources
  • attempt to impress upon the reader the importance of a particular research program. 

The literature review does:

  • integrate previous research together and explain how it integrates into the proposed research program. 
  • explain all sides of an argument clearly and highlight areas of agreement and disagreement 
  • evaluate the quality and findings of the research. An educated reader should be allowed to judge the importance for themselves. 

 For example:

Cyberbullying is something that is has become a new social phenomenon in today’s society. It can often times leave students unable to escape their bullies and leave them feeling alone and helpless. Faucher, Jackson, and Cassidy (2014) performed a study on 1925 students across four Canadian universities that found 24.1 percent of students had been the victims of cyberbullying over the last twelve months. These shocking numbers show that nearly one in every four people have been the victims of this phenomenon. This statistic is interesting however because when compared to studies that were done amongst younger age students you see that the numbers are drastically different. Wegge, Vandebosch, and Eggermont (2014) found that among 1,458 13-14 year old students that considerably less students reported being cyberbullied. This is very similar to what Vanderbosch and Van Cleemput (2009) found among 2052 students in the 12-18 ranges which concluded that 11.1 percent of students had been victims of cyberbullying. This research concludes that cyberbullying appears to be more prevalent in students as they get older. Wegge et al. (2014) also noted that 30.8 percent had been victims of traditional bullying. 

For more, see What is a Literature Review?

Process

  • Critically evaluate the paper and decide if the research is sufficient quality. ... The temptation is to try to include as many sources as possible, because it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a long bibliography equates to a good paper. A smaller number of quality sources is far preferable than a long list of irrelevance.

  • Check into the credentials of any source upon which you rely heavily for the literature review. The reputation of the University or organization is a factor, as is the experience of the researcher. If their name keeps cropping up, and they have written many papers, the source is usually OK.

  • Look for agreements. Good research should have been replicated by other independent researchers, with similar results, showing that the information is usually fairly safe to use.

If the process is proving to be difficult, and in some fields, like medicine and environmental research, there is a lot of poor science, do not be afraid to ask a supervisor for a few tips. They should know some good and reputable sources to look at. It may be a little extra work for them, but there will be even more work if they have to tear apart a review because it is built upon shaky evidence.

(From What is a Literature Review?)