Critics argue that narrative reviews are often partial, making no effort to be comprehensive. They are written up in ways that are qualitative or subjective; analysts rarely make explicit their criteria for assessment; and these evaluative criteria are not applied systematically. For some observers the limitations of narrative reviews are exposed by the wide gulf between the meager citations levels of the humanities and soft social sciences, compared with the far more extensive referencing included in STEM science papers.
Systematic reviews focus instead on results and attempt to find consensus or at least an agreed picture about effect sizes underlying apparently divergent or disparate findings. The analyst first explicitly defines a set of quality criteria to be used in comprehensively sifting through a large volume of literature.
The criteria are used to progressively filter down the field of relevant work, so as to focus progressively on just the best-conducted studies. The analyst then seeks to condense out precise effect estimates of how a given cause or type of intervention A affects phenomenon X at the focus of analysis. Systematic reviews are highly developed in medicine, and they have spread into social sciences recently via the health sciences.
Critics argue that systematic reviews are most appropriate in fields where quantitative research predominates, where there is high consensus on problem definition, and where methods across studies are broadly comparable rather than being contested. To be properly conducted systematic reviews also need to be comprehensive, which requires extensive searching in multiple databases.
They need a thorough understanding of how problems fields relate to each other, which is inherently very difficult to acquire at the start of projects. These may capture only a proportion of relevant literature, chiefly because academic researchers are endlessly adept at mis-describing their research in titles and in abstracts.
One of the greatest problems of large-scale and formalized literature reviews both narrative and systematic is that they take a long time to do.
Anyone is far better informed on the realities of researching a given topic two or three years into it than one could hope to be at the outset. Formal literature reviews may also get considerably over-extended by modern university practices. As Schopenhauer famously said: In research projects principal investigators are more experienced and tend to be quicker off the mark.
But here too literature reviews often expand as a way of bringing new research staff up to speed. Finally, of course, once the design of an experiment is fixed, and its equipment and protocols have been defined in a particular way, it is always tricky and may well then be impossible to adapt them or to do things differently.
This strengthens the rationale for an exhaustive initial literature search to surface all options and help choose the best-adapted procedures.
Yet in STEM sciences being the first to achieve and publish a given experimental result or breakthrough is of critical importance. In the social sciences and humanities, by contrast, an initial literature review may well not be refreshed at later stages of long projects.
It is quite common to see researchers looking surprised or even severely affronted when questioners at seminars or conferences, or even journal reviewers, ask that other literature or perspectives are taken into account.
Such brush-off responses can suggest an entrenched unwillingness by investigators to consider literature not covered in their initial often partial review. We live now in a digital era, in which the idea of a giant initial literature review is of fading relevance, except for properly conducted systematic reviews.
Instead of freezing our understanding of a field at one time, often indeed a time when we least understand the field, we should see the literature review as a repeated component of any ongoing research.
We also need to consider how researchers actually work now, which is not very well presented by most institutional advice webpages or courses, generally produced by librarians I think, rather than by creative researchers themselves.
So, in hopes that it will trigger some pushback comments and reactions, I set out here a first deliberately controversial attempt to outline strategies that contrast with the rather orthodox and perfectionist advice that seems to be out there at present. Use Google search tools first and foremost. This may seem controversial to most librarians, who want researchers to use the proprietary bibliometic databases that they have expensively acquired, and sometimes researched about.
But Google tools are clearly the best available in many dimensions and most disciplines, and they are easy to use in common ways, universally available on any internet PC or tablet, and free. These expensive and charged for databases are all human-compiled and so require that your university library has a subscription for you to gain access. The biggest advantage of the proprietary databases is including new literature from core journals quickly, an especially important feature in STEM disciplines.
Because they are hard get familiar with initially, and re-familiarize with after a break, you normally have to be trained in the Library about how to use them creatively. So these systems tend to reinforce the idea of a literature review as a discrete phase of research.
Not covering books and chapters in books is a big problem in most social sciences and all humanities disciplines. A literature review compiled on this basis might be worse than useless, because it is actively misleading. Scopus has included some books for some time, and Web of Science has been trying to reverse this blank spot recently.
But neither comes close to the comprehensive coverage in Google products. They are also English-biased sources, which may matter a lot if a lot of research in your topic area is published in other languages. Open access sources matter increasingly, chiefly because they give you quick access to full texts.
Archive sites that store full text versions of articles, chapters and papers are also very important, with ResearchGate running an especially good service that alerts you when another researcher you are following deposits any new materials. Twitter and Facebook streams linked to blogs, or based around other open access databases, also now serve as very important means of academic communication in the social sciences and humanities.
Many older researchers have bewailed the increasing volume of academic work and their inability to keep pace with it. They may already have copies of articles that you can work with. If you attend a conference or workshop with a wider group of people, perhaps from other universities, you can take the opportunity to ask other attendees for recommendations of articles or books relevant to your area of research.
Each department or school has assigned to it a specialist Information Librarian. You can find the contact details for the Information Librarian for your own area via the Library web pages. This person can help you identify relevant sources, and create effective electronic searches:.
Reading anything on your research area is a good start. You can then begin your process of evaluating the quality and relevance of what you read, and this can guide you to more focussed further reading. Taylor and Procter of The University of Toronto have some useful suggested questions to ask yourself at the beginning of your reading:. You can add other questions of your own to focus the search, for example: What time period am I interested in?
You may also want to make a clear decision about whether to start with a very narrow focus and work outwards, or to start wide before focussing in. You may even want to do both at once. It is a good idea to decide your strategy on this, rather than drifting into one or the other.
It can give you a degree of control, in what can feel like an overwhelming and uncontrollable stage of the research process. Searching electronic databases is probably the quickest way to access a lot of material. Guidance will be available via your own department or school and via the relevant Information Librarian. There may also be key sources of publications for your subject that are accessible electronically, such as collections of policy documents, standards, archive material, videos, and audio-recordings.
If you can find a few really useful sources, it can be a good idea to check through their reference lists to see the range of sources that they referred to.
This can be particularly useful if you find a review article that evaluates other literature in the field. This will then provide you with a long reference list, and some evaluation of the references it contains.
An electronic search may throw up a huge number of hits, but there are still likely to be other relevant articles that it has not detected. So, despite having access to electronic databases and to electronic searching techniques, it can be surprisingly useful to have a pile of journals actually on your desk, and to look through the contents pages, and the individual articles.
Often hand searching of journals will reveal ideas about focus, research questions, methods, techniques, or interpretations that had not occurred to you. Sometimes even a key idea can be discovered in this way. It is therefore probably worth allocating some time to sitting in the library, with issues from the last year or two of the most relevant journals for your research topic, and reviewing them for anything of relevance.
To avoid printing out or photocopying a lot of material that you will not ultimately read, you can use the abstracts of articles to check their relevance before you obtain full copies. EndNote and RefWorks are software packages that you can use to collect and store details of your references, and your comments on them. As you review the references, remember to be a critical reader see Study Guide What is critical reading?
Keeping a record of your search strategy is useful, to prevent you duplicating effort by doing the same search twice, or missing out a significant and relevant sector of literature because you think you have already done that search. Increasingly, examiners at post-graduate level are looking for the detail of how you chose which evidence you decided to refer to. They will want to know how you went about looking for relevant material, and your process of selection and omission.
You need to check what is required within your own discipline. If you are required to record and present your search strategy, you may be able to include the technical details of the search strategy as an appendix to your thesis. Plagiarism is regarded as a serious offence by all Universities, and you need to make sure that you do not, even accidentally, commit plagiarism. It can happen accidentally, for example, if you are careless in your note-taking.
This can mean that you get mixed up over what is an exact quote, and what you have written in your own words; or over what was an idea of your own that you jotted down, or an idea from some text. This has the advantage that, when you come to use that example in your writing up, you can choose:.
Help is available regarding how to avoid plagiarism and it is worth checking it out. Your department will have its own guidance. It is important to keep control of the reading process, and to keep your research focus in mind. Rudestam and Newton It is also important to see the writing stage as part of the research process, not something that happens after you have finished reading the literature. Wellington et al Once you are part way through your reading you can have a go at writing the literature review, in anticipation of revising it later on.
It is often not until you start explaining something in writing that you find where your argument is weak, and you need to collect more evidence. A skill that helps in curtailing the reading is: Decisions need to be made about where to focus your reading, and where you can refer briefly to an area but explain why you will not be going into it in more detail. The task of shaping a logical and effective report of a literature review is undeniably challenging. Some useful guidance on how to approach the writing up is given by Wellington et al In most disciplines, the aim is for the reader to reach the end of the literature review with a clear appreciation of what you are doing; why you are doing it; and how it fits in with other research in your field.
Often, the literature review will end with a statement of the research question s. Having a lot of literature to report on can feel overwhelming.
It is important to keep the focus on your study, rather than on the literature Wellington To help you do this, you will need to establish a structure to work to. A good, well-explained structure is also a huge help to the reader.
As with any piece of extended writing, structure is crucial. There may be specific guidance on structure within your department, or you may need to devise your own. Once you have established your structure you need to outline it for your reader. Although you clearly need to write in an academic style, it can be helpful to imagine that you are telling a story.
The thread running through the story is the explanation of why you decided to do the study that you are doing. The story needs to be logical, informative, persuasive, comprehensive and, ideally, interesting.
It needs to reach the logical conclusion that your research is a good idea. If there is a key article or book that is of major importance to the development of your own research ideas, it is important to give extra space to describing and critiquing that piece of literature in more depth.
Similarly, if there are some studies that you will be referring to more than to others, it would be useful to give them a full report and critique at this stage. As well as using tables to display numerical data, tables can be useful within a literature review when you are comparing other kinds of material. For example, you could use a table to display the key differences between two or more:.
Doing a literature review Study guide For a printer It is important to keep the focus on your study, rather than on the literature (Wellington ). To help you do this, you will need to establish a structure to work to. A good, well-explained structure is also a huge help to the reader.
Doing quicker literature reviews Four ways to better exploit digital era capabilities. An elaborate literature review is an important stage in the development of almost all PhDs, and it is also a.
Literature review help doing Werle [character in daniel auber’s opera the mute girl of portici]. “murder,” goes an eranos essay by g. r. computer science research papers websites for women sciencedirect research papers history erythravine synthesis essay sny internship application essay racial inequality in the workplace essay? The “literature” of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. “Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL.
A literature review can be a precursor to the introduction of a research paper, or it can be an entire paper in itself, acting as the first stage of large research projects and allowing the supervisor to ascertain that the student is on the correct path. Aug 02, · The literature review will help you compare and contrast what you are doing in the historical context of the research as well as how your research is different or original from what others have done, helping you rationalize why you need to do this particular research (See Reference 2).Reviews: