Critical Literature Review Tips
A literature review or review is a critically written piece, analyses the published academic literature in any specific research area or a subject. The Literature review is a well-structured document, help the researcher to engage in some primary contributions of research, by critically examining the major research gaps in it. In case of graduate level, it is generally a part of a dissertation, research proposal, report, or a journal article in miniature form. However, in undergraduate level, it can be considered as a complete assignment also. Also, you should remember that literature review is quite different from a book review or an annotated bibliography due to its purpose.
Purpose of a Literature Review:
The followings are the main purposes of a literature review.
- Determine what has been done on the particular topic.
- Provide overview of concepts and identify the patterns.
- Identify gaps in literature or highlight conflicting evidences.
- Provide a robust background from undertaking a primary research work.
In the following we will discuss different ways of structuring a literature review.
Different types of Literature review:
Based on the way of structuring it, the following three types of literature review can be discussed.
Chronological literature reviews:
This is one of the simplest ways of structuring a review. All the concerned literature is discussed in a chronological order or on the basis of their year of publication. This type of reviews rightly captures the development of the considered field of research. This is often the safest way of organizing a review and always ensures that the important research gaps are captured in the literature review.
Literature reviews on the basis of relevance:
This is another effective as well as an easy way of structuring literature review. In this way, the literature that is closest to your research topic should be dealt in the beginning. And the most irrelevant one at the last. Although chronological literature reviews and literature reviews on the basis of relevance are comparatively easy to write as they are built upon already existing structure like the relevance or chronology, often these reviews may not provide a vivid picture of the entire literature. For achieving this purpose, the final type of literature review and the most challenging one should be undertaken.
Thematic Literature reviews:
Themes are identified from the concerned literature and based on those themes structure the review. As indicated, this literature review helps the reader to grasp the major debates in the literature and also it enables the author to critically engage with the gaps in those debates.
The Structure of a literature review:
In the introduction you should provide the general topic, issue or concern to set an appropriate context for the review. Then highlight broad patterns or trends in this body of literature. After this you should establish your purpose of engaging with this body of literature. Followed by that, explain the rationale which you are going to employ while organizing the research works and also should justify your choice. Depending on the above rationale you should choose appropriate pieces research for the review.
Each of the paragraphs in this section should be structured on the basis of how you have organized the literature, e.g. Based on themes or major groups in chronological order. Alternatively, you can group the research works on the basis of other distinction like qualitative vs quantitative, on the basis of a conclusion, etc.
Once the structuring of paragraphs is done, then concentrate on, at first, describing the research works and then critically engage with those. Otherwise, each of the paragraphs in this section should be structured as usual, starting from a broad statement of the concerned research works and then going deeper in each of the research works. Along with it, each paragraph should address the ‘so what’ questions or delineate its purpose to the overall literature review.
In the conclusion the main objective should be to give the major similarity and dissimilarity in the literature. Along with it, you should also highlight the clear gaps in the literature. Finally, you should conclude by providing your own critical perspective on the entire body of literature. This will definitely help you in actually embedding the literature review in some larger academic write up like a dissertation or a thesis.
Before going to the final words, the following checklist is provided for you to ensure that all the nitty-gritties of the literature review are there in your write up.
- Outlined the purpose and scope?
- Identified apposite literature?
- Analysed, critiqued and identified gaps?
- Discussed different viewpoints or themes?
- Explored methodologies/ theories/ models/ hypothesis?
- Recorded the bibliographic details of the sources?
We hope that this detailed description of how to plan and write a literature review will help you to write one. Otherwise, it always should be remembered that often literature review is just a component of a larger project. In that case, the overall purpose of that project should be kept in mind while writing the literature review.