Almost every researcher struggle to write the literature review. It is a painstaking job but often overlooked by authors. It is a commonly confused element in academic writing. However, it decides the quality and scientific framework of your research. Many end up writing a summary of articles that they have read.
It is not a summary or a list of views on the articles you read but a critical analysis of perspectives, frameworks, relationships between concepts, and/ or current debates. It is also not a compilation of the major findings of research articles but a synthesis of arguments, issues, theories or findings.
Literature review is a comprehensive and critical evaluation of existing knowledge in a subject area with a purpose to know what has been and not been studied (frameworks and perspectives), examine the current debates and trends, and identify key concepts.
It includes 3 major steps: a literature search/survey, review of literature, and writing the literature review section in align with the broad research topic.
Step 1: Use key concepts of your topic/subject area as keywords and search for peer reviewed articles from various online databases and university library. Set criteria for inclusion and exclusion of literature for the review if the research topic is already a well-researched one. Scan the abstracts of the articles and read the whole paper if you think the abstract is relevant. Catalogue the publication details of all the articles that you read.
Read, re read the articles to identify the main arguments and major findings. Make notes if they support or contradict a worldview.
Step 2: Categorise key themes, ideas, and/or issues together (chronological, methods, theory) that builds around major works of your topic. Critically analyse key arguments, findings, and claims that agree or disagree a certain relationship between concepts, a theory, or reality. Examine if the arguments can be challenged or any alternative perspective or methods have been overlooked in the articles. This will locate your research.
Step 3: Write the review in three parts- introduction, body, and conclusion. Introduce the key themes or issues that you are reviewing. Synthesise the themes in such a way that it looks like a conversation between authors who are discussing on your topic. Use transition words like ‘similarly’ and ‘contrastingly’ to weave your synthesis. Write two to three paragraphs.
Don’t forget to cite authors (based on the referencing style of the journal you are planning to submit) while you write. You may use Mendeley or Zotero for creating references and bibliographies of the articles that you have used.