A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.
Its Latin root literatura/ litteratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts, though contemporary definitions extend the term to include texts that are spoken or sung (oral literature).
Literature review is a systematic identification and location of documents concerning information related to the research problem.
A literature review is both a summary and explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a limited topic as found in academic books and journal articles.
A literature review is an evaluative report of information found in the literature related to one’s selected area of study. The review should describe, summarize, evaluate and clarify this literature. It should give a theoretical base for the research and help the author determine the nature of their research. Works which are irrelevant should be discarded and those which are peripheral should be looked at critically.
“In writing the literature review, the purpose is to convey to the reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g. research objective, the problem or issue of discussion, or argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries”.
The analytical features of a literature review might:
• Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
• Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
• Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
• Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.
According to creswell (2005), a review of the literature “is a written summary of journal articles, books and other documents that past and current state of information organizes literature into topics and documents a need for a proposed study”. (pp.79)
Mugenda and Mugenda (199:29) reports the reviewing of literature involves:
-The systematic identification
-location and analysis of documents containing information related to the research problem being invested.
According to (Ridley, D.2008),
• A place to make connections between what one is investigating and what has already been investigated in their subject area.
• A place to engage in a type of conversation with other researchers in one’s subject areas.
• A place to identify previous research on the topic.
• A place to show there is a gap in the literature which one’s study can fill.
• A place from which to begin one’s own investigation.
Purpose of the Literature Review
• It gives readers easy access to research on a particular topic by selecting high quality articles or studies that are relevant, meaningful, important and valid and summarizing them into one complete report,
• It provides an excellent starting point for researchers beginning to do research in a new area by forcing them to summarize, evaluate, and compare original research in that specific area,
• It ensures that researchers do not duplicate work that has already been done,
• It can provide clues as to where future research is heading or recommend areas on which to focus,
• It highlights key findings,
• It identifies inconsistencies, gaps and contradictions in the literature,
• It provides a constructive analysis of the methodologies and approaches of other researchers.
Types of Literature Reviews
It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of field.
Content of the Review
The introduction explains the focus and establishes the importance of the subject. It discusses what kind of work has been done on the topic and identifies any controversies within the field or any recent research which has raised questions about earlier assumptions. It may provide background or history.
Often divided by headings/subheadings, the body summarizes and evaluates the current state of knowledge in the field. It notes major themes or topics, the most important trends, and any findings about which researchers agree or disagree. If the review is preliminary to one’s own thesis or research project, its purpose is to make an argument that will justify their proposed research. Therefore, it will discuss only that research which leads directly to one’s own project.
The conclusion summarizes all the evidence presented and shows its significance. If the review is an introduction to one’s own research, it highlights gaps and indicates how previous research leads to one’s own research project and chosen methodology. If the review is a stand-alone assignment for a course, it should suggest any practical applications of the research as well as the implications and possibilities for future research.
Nine Steps to Writing a Literature Review
1. Finding a Working Topic,
2. Reviewing the Literature,
3. Focusing the Topic Narrowly and Select Papers Accordingly,
4. Reading the Selected Articles Thoroughly and Evaluate Them,
5. Organizing the Selected Papers by Looking For Patterns and By Developing Subtopics,
6. Developing a Working Thesis,
7. Organizing Your Own Paper Based on the Findings from Steps 4 & 5,
8. Writing the Body of the Paper,
9. Looking at what one has written; focusing On Analysis, Not Description.