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Review and Critical Analysis of the Literature

Review and Critical Analysis of the Literature
What is a Literature Review and Why is it Important?
Video: Introduction to the literature review

There are a range of important reasons as to why we might conduct a literature review as part of the research process, for an assignment, or to improve our professional practice. Ary, Jacobs, Razavieh and Sorensen (2006, p. 68-70) describe several important functions of the literature review.
•    A knowledge of related research enables investigators to define the frontiers of their field
•    A thorough review of related theory and research enables researchers to place their questions in perspective
•    Reviewing related literature helps researchers to limit their research question and to clarify and define the concepts of the study
•    A critical review of related literature often leads to insight into the reasons for contradictory results in the area
•    Through studying related research, investigators learn which methodologies have proven useful and which seem less promising
•    A thorough search through related research avoids unintentional replication of previous studies
•    The study of related literature places researchers in a better position to interpret the significance of their own results.
Many established researchers argue that a good literature is a prerequisite for good research. This idea is explained in the following quote:
‘A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a pre-condition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research. “Good” research is good because it advances our collective understanding. To advance our collective understanding, a researcher or scholar needs to understand what has been done before, the strengths and weaknesses of existing studies, and what they might mean. A researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field. Not understanding the prior research clearly puts the researcher at a disadvantage’ (Boote & Beile, 2005, p.3).
Ary, D., Jacobs, L.C. & Razavieh, A. 2006, Introduction to research in education 7th Edition, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA.
Boote, D. & Beile, P. (2005) Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15.
North Carolina State University Libraries. (2009) Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students. Last accessed 26 July from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2d7y_r65HU
Review and Critical Analysis of the Literature
Identifying and Accessing Sources
Identifying Literature
Before you can conduct your literature review, you must identify high quality literature that is relevant to your field and purpose. In academic work this literature generally consists of:
•    Peer-reviewed journal articles
•    Books and book chapters
•    Conference proceedings
•    Policy documents
•    Theses
•    Conference presentations
A question that we frequently hear is where do I start? when posed with the challenge of identifying sources. There is a wide range of options available.  As researchers it is important that we consider the credibility and trustworthiness of the sources that we draw upon (more of this on the next page).??
Creswell (1994, p. 27) identifies a priority for reviewing the literature.  ?
1.    Begin with journal articles in respected, national [and international] journals, especially those that report research studies.  By research I mean that the author or authors pose a question or hypothesis, collect data, and try to answer the question or support the hypothesis.  Begin with single studies and move on to syntheses of topics.  Start with the most recent studies about the topic and then work backwards in time.?
2.    Next review books related to the topic.  Begin with research monographs that are summaries on the scholarly literature.  Then consider entire books that are on a single topic or that contain chapters written by different authors.?
3.    Follow this search by reading recent conference papers on a topic.  Often conference papers report the latest research developments.  Look for major, national [and international] conferences and the papers delivered at them. Most major conferences either require or request that authors submit their papers for inclusion in computerised indices.??
Accessing Literature
At UOW we have a range of resources to help us find and work with high quality literature. Take the time to explore the following:
1.    Library guide to literature review
2.    Social Sciences database list
3.    Instructional videos to assist in keyword, connector and truncation searches.
Keeping Track of Your Literature and Searches: Endote
All UOW students have access to Endnote a piece of software that allows you to create your own personal database of literature and take it with your wherever you go. Endnote not only helps you keep track of your literature, it also helps you to create reference lists (without typing out the reference every time!)
Review and Critical Analysis of the Literature
Critiquing the Literature and Planning to Write
Critiquing the Literature
The thought of critically engaging with published research can be intimidating when your own research skills are only just developing. Nevertheless, it’s an important quality of a literature review and one that we can start by asking questions such as:
•    Who are the authors?
•    What do you know about them?
•    What is the perspective of the writer?
•    How old is the material?
•    Is the source/location reputable?
•    Are the arguments logical?
•    Is there evidence to support the authors’ contentions?
•    Is the material correctly and fully referenced?
•    Is it peer-reviewed / edited by a reputable scholar? (Conducting a literature review, 2004, cited in Kervin et al., 2006, p. 50).
Planning to Write a Literature Review
Your literature review should be more than simply a summary of available literature and it certainly should not focus on moving through research studies one-by-one (this is something closer to an annotated bibliography). In order to avoid this, planning to write should involve:
•    Organising your review around key themes; and/or
•    in terms of where and with whom research has been conducted; and/or
•    In terms of when the research was conducted.
The planning stage will likely involve: drawing a diagram, showing how concepts within the review relate to each other; writing out topic sentences, to help you plan the flow of paragraphs; and sketching out how you’ll move from general ideas and studies in your area, to studies that are closely related to our own work.
Review and Critical Analysis of the Literature
Literature Reviews: Capstone
Weekly ‘Capstone’ Activity and Discussion:
Use the library’s search strategy tracker sheet to plan and conduct a literature search in an area that is of interest to you. Don’t forget to try out searches using connectors and truncation.
Keep in mind that effectively searching for literature is an art, and is rarely perfect the first time. Sometimes our search terms are too broad (yielding 1000s of results that we could not possibly sift through) or too narrow (yielding insufficient results for our purposes). As a result, we need to refine our terms, add limitations and remove limitations.
Aim for around 50-100 results in your search, many of which are relevant. Once achieved, post your experiences to the forum and discuss what processes you undertook, what worked, what did not work and what strategies you would use going forward.

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