During this course, you will research and write a scholarly Literature Review. The paper will be written in APA format, will be at least 16 pages in length (not including the title page, abstract, and references) and will utilize at least 12 scholarly references.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review is a survey and discussion of the literature in a given area of study. It is a concise overview of what has been studied, argued, and established about a topic, and it is usually organized chronologically or thematically. A literature review is written in essay format. It is not an annotated bibliography, because it groups related works together and discusses trends and developments rather than focusing on one item at a time. It is not a summary; rather, it evaluates previous and current research in regard to how relevant and/or useful it is and how it relates to your own research. A Literature Review is more than an Annotated Bibliography or a summary because you are organizing and presenting your sources in terms of their overall relationship to your problem statement.
A literature review is written to highlight specific arguments and ideas in a field of study. By highlighting these arguments, the writer attempts to show what has been studied in the field, and also where the weaknesses, gaps, or areas needing further study are. The review should therefore also demonstrate to the reader why the writer’s research is useful, necessary, important, and valid.
Literature reviews can have different types of audiences, so consider why and for whom you are writing your review. For example, a lot of literature reviews are written as a chapter for a thesis or dissertation, to support a proposal, or to help the writer develop a base of knowledge in a particular business area.
Asking questions such as the following will help you sift through your sources and organize your literature review. Remember, the literature review organizes the previous research in the light of what you are planning to do in your own project.
• What’s been done in this topic area to date? What are the significant discoveries, key concepts, arguments, and/or theories that scholars have put forward? Which are the important works?
• On which particular areas of the topic has previous research concentrated? Have there been developments over time? What methodologies have been used?
• Are there any gaps in the research? Are there areas that haven’t been looked at closely yet, but which should be? Are there new ways of looking at the topic?
• Are there improved methodologies for researching this subject?
• What future directions should research in this subject take?
• How will your research build on or depart from current and previous research on the topic? What contribution will your research make to the field?
How Do I Organize and Structure the Literature Review?
There are several ways to organize and structure a literature review. Two common ways are chronologically and thematically. We will be using the thematic structure in this review. In a thematic review, you will group and discuss your sources in terms of the themes or topics they cover. This method is often a stronger one organizationally, and it can help you resist the urge to summarize your sources. By grouping themes or topics of research together, you will be able to demonstrate the types of topics that are important to your research. For example, if the topic of the literature review is improving productivity in organizations, then there might be separate sections on research involving service-oriented businesses, production-oriented businesses, non-profit organizations, governmental organizations, etc… Within each section of a thematic literature review, it is important to discuss how the research relates to other studies (how is it similar or different, what other studies have been done, etc.) as well as to demonstrate how it relates to your own work. This is what the review is for so don’t leave this connection out!
What is the Final Format?
As stated in the syllabus, the paper will be written in APA format, will be at least sixteen pages in length (not including the title page, abstract, and references) and will utilize at least twelve scholarly references. The final format will be:
• Title Page
• Introduction – no longer than one page
• Findings – at least 13 pages
• Conclusions and Recommendations – at least 2 pages
What is the Process?
During the first week of class, your professor will provide the topic to be researched. After that you begin your project. Below is a recommended outline of steps to write a thematically organized literature review.
1. Annotated bibliography – As you read articles, books, etc, on your topic, write a brief critical synopsis of each. After going through your reading list, you will have an abstract or annotation of each source you read. Later annotations are likely to include more references to other works since you will have your previous readings to compare, but at this point the important goal is to get accurate critical summaries of each individual work.
2. Thematic organization – Find common themes in the works you read, and organize the works into categories. Typically, each work you include in your review can fit into one category or sub-theme of your main theme, but sometimes a work can fit in more than one. (If each work you read can fit into all the categories you list, you probably need to rethink your organization.) Write some brief paragraphs outlining your categories, how in general the works in each category relate to each other, and how the categories relate to each other and to your overall theme.
3. More reading – Based on the knowledge you have gained in your reading, you should have a better understanding of the topic and of the literature related to it. Perhaps you have discovered specific researchers who are important to the field, or research methodologies you were not aware of. Look for more literature by those authors, on those methodologies, etc. Also, you may be able to set aside some less relevant areas or articles which you pursued initially. Integrate the new readings into your literature review draft. Reorganize themes and read more as appropriate.
4. Write individual sections – For each thematic section, use your draft annotations (it is a good idea to reread the articles and revise annotations, especially the ones you read initially) to write a section which discusses the articles relevant to that theme. Focus your writing on the theme of that section, showing how the articles relate to each other and to the theme, rather than focusing your writing on each individual article. Use the articles as evidence to support your critique of the theme rather than using the theme as an angle to discuss each article individually.
5. Integrate sections – Now that you have the thematic sections, tie them together with an introduction, conclusion, and some additions and revisions in the sections to show how they relate to each other and to your overall theme.
What Additional Points Must I Consider?
The following are some points to address when writing about specific works you are reviewing. In dealing with a paper or an argument or theory, you need to assess it (clearly understand and state the claim) and analyze it (evaluate its reliability, usefulness, validity). Look for the following points as you assess and analyze papers, arguments, etc. You do not need to state them all explicitly, but keep them in mind as you write your review:
• Be specific and be succinct – Briefly state specific findings listed in an article, specific methodologies used in a study, or other important points. Literature reviews are not the place for long quotes or in-depth analysis of each point.
• Be selective – You are trying to boil down a lot of information into a small space. Mention just the most important points (i.e. those most relevant to the review’s focus) in each work you review.
• Is it a current article? – How old is it? Have it’s claims, evidence, or arguments been superseded by more recent work? If it is not current, is it important for historical background?
• What specific claims are made? – Are they stated clearly?
• What support is given for those claims?
o What evidence and what type (experimental, statistical, anecdotal, etc.) are offered? Is the evidence relevant? Sufficient?
o What arguments are given? What assumptions are made, and are they warranted?
A word of caution: It is absolutely essential that you understand your article. If you do not understand the article do not use it. Also, do not depend on the abstract or the conclusion for a full understanding of what the article says. You can often be misled.
Tips on Identifying and Organizing Your Findings
There is no way to predict what themes you will find. The themes could include definitions, topics, theories, agreements, and even disagreements in the literature. Design a descriptive codeword or phrases to define each theme. Some people even use different-colored highlighters. With twelve articles (16 pages of content) you will probably have anywhere between 4 – 6 major themes for your final literature review. It is highly unlikely that every article will continue all the themes you have identified. Below is an example of ten hypothetical articles with 4 hypothetical themes.