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WEEK 6: Housekeeping, Guidelines for the Literature Review

Guidelines for the Literature Review:

What is it?
A comprehensive review of relevant scholarly material, a process of synthesis and critique.
• journal articles
• books, book chapter
• conference proceedings, papers
• dissertations
• collect, describe, evaluate
• identify connections, gaps
• 2000 words, 10-15 references

What isn’t it?
• a listing of all your references
• a chronological summary of every study undertaken in your area

Once you have all your ideas, you can contrast or link ideas which support the same argument. When you look at your concepts, you’ll find that some are connected and some aren’t. The ‘opposite’ arguments are extremely important for the literature review.

You must not just use articles which support your argument!

You need to know all the arguments – the ‘for’ and the ‘against’.

Why write a literature review:

• reveal gaps in organised knowledge in an area
• a way to demonstrate how you might add to/build upon previous research
• help identify major theories in the area
• ensure that no important variable is ignored
• sets up ‘departure point’ for project
• helps to establish and identify the degree/perception of relevance toward the research question
• helps you formulate a clear, precise research question
• offers evidence to readers that you are knowledgeable in the area, i.e. You’re a credible source!

How to write it?

• what kind of claims does it make?
• are these claims supportable in terms of the material analysed or offered as evidence?
• how does the author frame the distinctiveness of their study?
• what ‘assumptions’, if any, underpin the study?
• what type of research paradigm is the researcher working within?


• identify your key terms
• start with the most recent material and work backwards
• check the abstract first (if available) and see if it’s relevant
• keep records of what you cover (full citation)

Actually writing it:

• the funnel structure – begins with broad overview then gradually narrows down toward a tight conclusion.
• broad opening/introduction that indicates the context of the review (general scope, basic organisation or sequence)
• provides clear, logical account of relevant work in area
• tries to identify/group themes
• identifies unexplored ground
• has a conclusion which precisely identifies the major findings, i.e. gaps, flaws, positions taken

What NOT to do!
• don’t simply describe the research you are reviewing
• don’t present descriptions of one piece of research after another, i.e. Smith argued that… Jones argued that… not pasting annotated references into review
• you need a theme, i.e. Several scholars have argued that social media has… (then cite specific studies)
• don’t present all the relevant studies in a chronological manner
• don’t try to include all the literature on the broader topic. Make sure you evaluate what’s relevant!

Useful advice (Salkind, 2000):
• falling in love with an idea can be fatal
• sticking with the first idea isn’t always wise
• avoid doing something trivial (tricky to determine)
• don’t bite off more than you can chew
• remember that a research project is always a conversation between you and other researchers in the field


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