Literature Reviews, Part 1: What They Are


The literature review is the starting point
for every researcher’s new research study. Before a team of biologists studies the adaptive
strategies of marmots to predatory pressure, or before the researcher studies the outcomes
of a storytelling program for toddlers, they all review the existing literature. So before you learn how to do a literature
review for your undergraduate or graduate research project, it is important to understand
what a literature review is, and why it is important. A review of the literature is the process
of collecting and analyzing existing research that addresses a research question. This results
in a literature review – a stand-alone work that can be submitted as an assignment or
for publication. The LR will also be a section of any empirical
research article (IMAGE OF ARTICLE, HIGHLIGHT LR). A literature review serves many purposes. It is a way for you to build your own understanding
of the subject. As a result, your written literature review
demonstrates your familiarity with the subject, and shows that you are competent to undertake
research on that particular topic. It provides an overview of theories and concepts
that are important for your research project. It helps you focus and revise your research
question by giving you an indication of the types of research questions that have been
successfully answered in the past. It also helps you develop your hypothesis
— what you predict your outcome to be based on your analysis of other research evidence.
As you search for literature, you’ll begin to see the extent of past research related
to your topic. Look for gaps in the research – perfect areas to focus your research energy. In fact, many researchers will make suggestions
for further study. Look for phrases such as “implications” or “recommendations for
future research.” Your review will help you find out early on
whether your topic or your approach is original. If your review will be the introduction to
a research proposal, it will give you an opportunity to compare the work you wish to undertake
with the work of others and to explain how your work will build previous research.
The literature may suggest research methodologies that have been successfully used in the past.
For example, you may find reliable data collection methods or instruments for use in your own
research. In short, it creates a solid foundation for
new research. What is a LR not? What does it not do?
From what you have seen, a LR is not an essay or research paper.
You are not trying to argue a point or persuade an audience.
You won’t present new ideas or proposals for a research project.
And you won’t simply summarize or annotate all the research articles you
find on your topic as you might for an annotated bibliography. Now that you have an idea what a literature
review is and what is not, you are ready to start your review. Continue to the next video tutorial in this series. If you would like assistance understanding
the literature review process, please feel free to contact the library to set up an appointment with your liaison librarian.

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