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Education Corner: Writing a Literature review and its importance

Filed under: Education,Special Comments |

By Prof. Edgar Nyanga

The literature review is mostly the second chapter of the research report and proposal. The literature would include such subtopics as; defining the study subject, literature pertaining to the topic at global, continental, regional, national to the lowest organ even up to the study area (the funnel model of writing). The other subheading found in literature review is the empirical studies (relatedness and gaps). The empirical studies are directly related to the topic being researched. Some researchers would include the theoretical framework and/or conceptual framework. Note that sometimes, either the theoretical framework is included or the conceptual framework and sometimes both are included, depending on the level of the researcher’s study.

The literature review is a legitimate and publishable scholarly document (LeCompte & colleagues, 2003). Writing a faulty literature review is one of the ways to spoil a report. Gall, et al (1996) argue that the literature review plays a role in: delimiting the research problem, seeking new lines of inquiry, avoiding fruitless approaches, gaining methodological insights, identifying recommendations for further research and, seeking support for grounded theory (Boote & Beile, 2005).

Hart (1998) adds that reasons for reviewing the literature, including: distinguishing what has been done from what needs to be done, discovering important variables relevant to the topic, synthesizing and gaining a new perspective, identifying relationships between ideas and practices, establishing the context of the topic or problem, rationalizing the significance of the problem, enhancing and acquiring the subject vocabulary, understanding the structure of the subject, relating ideas and theory to applications, identifying the main methodologies and research techniques that have been used and,  placing the research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments (Boote & Beile, 2005). Another purpose for writing a literature review is that it provides a framework for relating new findings to previous findings in the discussion section of a research. Without establishing the state of the previous research, it is impossible to establish how the new research advances the previous research.  If the literature review is imperfect, the rest of the dissertation may also be viewed as faulty, because “a researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field” (Boote & Beile, 2005). A poorly conceptualized or written literature review often indicates that the rest of the dissertation might have problems.

Conducting a literature review is a means of demonstrating an author’s knowledge about a particular field of study, including vocabulary, theories, key variables and phenomena, and its methods and history (Onwuegbuzie & Daniel, 2005). The aim of many reviews is to integrate and generalize findings across units, treatments, outcomes, and settings; to resolve a debate within a field; or to bridge the language used across fields (Cottrell, 2005). It may be to critically analyze previous research, identify central issues, or explicate a line of argument within a field. It is important that the researcher points out the literature review gaps and then ensure that the researcher points out the main argument of the research topic. Without putting up the researcher’s main argument, it will be difficult for the reader to appreciate the writer’s bone of contention.

The researcher must spend a dedicated amount of time, searching about each of the topics required by the students in order to create literature reviews which help them create high-scoring assignments (Jaroongkhongdach, 2012). Before writing anything, the researcher must make sure that he/she is doing a lot of research about the point of view that he/she is planning to write about. The researcher must collect different sources of genuine and valid information study (Alton-Lee, 1998: Cottrell, 2005). The researcher should be reminded to remain and maintain authenticity. Validity and authenticity are very important in any academic research and researchers must ensure that before submitting their work, they observe plagiarism (Educational Resources Information Center, 2012).

Each and every research writing including a literature review requires the researchers to respond a certain question in the study and the majority researchers make the mistake of writing all the content instead of answering the question at hand or being researched. must remember not to leave the question unanswered (Zorn & Campbell, 2006). The researcher should be able to have a strong structure of how information is flowing so that the readers do not get lost and confused (American Education Research Association, 2006).

Finally, when considering reviewing of literature review, the researcher needs to read and understand what they really want to engage themselves in. Gall, et al (1996) allege that the most frequent mistakes made in reviewing the literature are that the researcher: does not clearly relate the findings of the literature review to the researcher’s own study; does not take sufficient time to define the best descriptors and identify the best sources to use in review literature related to one’s topic; relies on secondary sources rather than on primary sources in reviewing the literature; uncritically accepts another researcher’s findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis; does not report the search procedures that were used in the literature review; reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them by chi-square or meta-analytic methods; and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations in synthesizing quantitative literature.


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