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Nail that Literature Review – Here is the Hammer

Literature review is to a research paper what Mickey Mouse is to Walt Disney. Research papers, as we know, are something that you essentially have to do in your final year. So automatically, a literature review becomes something that you have to do.

What is a Literature Review?

Okay, first things first – what is a literature review? It is a critical analysis of all the available documents, texts, and published materials relevant to the subject of the research paper. A literature review is a significant pointer in the table of contents in a research paper.

Well, that was simple, was it not? To bust the bubble, it actually is not. A literature review contains many things – sources of information that you have referred to while gathering content for your research paper outline, an introduction, summery, and an evaluation of those sources.

These sources can be procured from electronic or print media. Any written and published piece that is relevant to the research can be taken in for reviewing.

How to ensure your Literature Review is good?

It is a bit tricky to make sure that your literature review is flawless; there are many points where you might slip. To make sure that you do not, go through the following pointers carefully:

  • Orient your search for sources: Before you go on the quest for finding sources to discuss in your literature review, you need to organize your problem statement(s). This will save you from looking for sources astray, and will save you a lot of time.
  • Avoid Irrelevance: Every year, in every university, in every discipline, there are cases of students submitting papers that only have fluffed up paragraphs, and no actual subject matter. This is the last thing you would want to do. Include only those sources in your literature review that have a direct relevance to your research.
  • Take Notes: While you are searching for sources, keep taking notes. At the end of the searching process, tally your notes with the problem statement(s) of your research. This will help you get sharply relevant sources for your literature review.
  • Broaden the Relevance: Although you are advised to keep a check on the boundaries of your search for sources, it is a good thing to keep some level of multidisciplinary relevance in some of the sources that you are including in your literature review.
  • Screen the Sources: You should have a screening process for the sources that you have searched and collected. Try and shortlist some exciting or new literary source that has not been cited earlier in any of the researches conducted in the field of your research. This will give you an edge over the previous researches.
  • Categorize the Sources: After you have shortlisted the literary sources, you should state them into categories. These categories can be based on chronology, academic ranking, historical importance, relevance to your centre problem statement. Doing this, will not only help the reader to go through your literature review easily but also make your document more systematic.
  • Get regular Feedback: While you are writing your literature review, you should get regular reviews on your raw drafts. You can ask your senior or your supervisor to read it and then suggest amends. Regular feedbacks will polish and improve your literature review.
  • Look for Gaps: While you are looking for the sources, you will feel that there are a few missing links in the sources. You should be sharp enough to spot them and mention them in your literature review. It will not only make your review more impressive, but will also give you a lead for your research. You can work towards filling those ‘knowledge gaps’ in your research.

Evaluation of a Literary Source

Now, while you are doing a literature review, you will have a review and reflect upon each one of the sources of information, you are breaking down that piece for the person who will read the research paper.

There is no thumb rule, again as on how to do this ‘breaking down,’ but there are a few necessary things that you need to mention while breaking down a source. If you go with the following pointers, you will have covered every aspect of a source and will have properly unboxed it:

  • You should elaborate on the author’s view of the topic and his interpretation of controversial points.
  • The techniques used to procure data and other information – whether or not they were appropriate or adequate.
  • You positively need to elaborate on your judgement of the author’s conclusions. You should use the author’s conclusions and use them as very good evidences to prove your points in the whole research paper.

Points to remember

There will be many instances where you will be in a fix, or where you will be confident on what to do. However, in both the cases, risk of making a mistake in your literature review is persistent. These are some common mistakes that you can avoid:

  • Not finding sources that are relatable enough: Many a times students mention sources that are very remotely related to the research topic or are of very less significance in the research.
  • Ignoring contradictions: Many a times (well, most of the time) students tend to mention only those sources that have a proved assumption. You also need to look out for things that are contradictory, and build up a stronger point.
  • Not identifying source: It is a common rookie mistake; students tend not to mention the process of finding the source of literature they reviewed.

This was the basic ‘what, how, and how much’ about a literature review.