The Literature review process is one of the focal points of a research project. It is essential for the success of a research work as it reveals the knowledge, information and observations available on a topic, idea or concept. A literature review is a compilation, evaluation and overview of what other researchers have observed, discovered and written on a particular topic, idea or concept. A well written literature review demonstrates the in-depth understanding a researcher has on a topic 1.
A literature review can be of two kinds. The first form of a review can be an independent dissertation, or a stand-alone article, research work or publication. It could also take the form of an introduction that provides a theoretical foundation, background and justification for a study 2.
The importance of a literature review cannot be over emphasized as it helps researchers structure their research work appropriately, evaluate their methodology and review their research focus based on previous research work and findings. It helps scientists identify areas previously researched into in order to prevent duplication of efforts. It also identifies previous approaches to a topic and integrates what other researchers have found.
Through the literature review process, contradictions in previous studies can be identified and resolved. Also, the weaknesses and shortcomings of previous studies, as well as gaps in scientific knowledge can be identified. These gaps present novel concepts and new areas to work on. The literature review process ultimately provides clarity and a good rationale on the way forward for future research 1,3.
A good literature review should contain up-to-date information on a topic, question or concept of choice. It could either be narrative, integrative, theoretical or systematic 2,3.
A narrative (traditional) review appraises and summarizes what has been written on a topic. It gives a comprehensive background for understanding available knowledge on a topic and identify gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge. It mostly provides a historical framework highlighting the reason a study is significant.
Integrative reviews criticizes available data (information) and generates a secondary opinion, perspective and idea on a topic.
Theoretical reviews focus on different ideologies, concepts, phenomenon, and theories on a topic. It reviews what theories exist, the relationship between the different theories, Investigations into these different theories and developing new hypothesis.
The Systematic review collates findings and research data across many studies. It involves the comprehensive collection, review and analysis of data (information) available on a topic. The data collected may be analyzed using statistical methods (meta-analysis) or qualitative methods. Meta-analysis involves combining data with similar properties (e.g. similar statistical formula) from multiple studies into a simple quantitative estimate and analyzing it using statistical techniques. Meta-analysis often calculates an average of the results from multiple research findings. This helps create a more precise and reliable estimate than those derived from individual studies.
Finding and reading the appropriate literature is an integral process in developing a good literature review and it will influence the effectiveness, credibility and authenticity of a research work. Reading the right sources help in developing the appropriate outline, themes, subtopics, and focal points for the literature review. It also helps in structuring the literature review and creates a 'fluid' write up with a natural progression in the writing process.
You however need to know how to locate the right sources and identify which sources are the most appropriate for your literature review. Sources for literature review include scholarly articles, essays and dissertations, encyclopedias, dictionaries, trade journal articles, Governmental publications, credible national and international newspapers, magazines and articles. Information can be sourced from online data bases at any University or college library website. Electronic databases (such as Google scholar, Science direct, Public Library of Science, Web of science, Medline, PubMed, and Education Resources Information Center) can serve as extremely useful resources in the search for right scientific literature1,2,3.
The literature review should be well structured; it should start with an introduction that examines the different dimensions of the topic and gradually narrow down, focusing on the research question. The themes or subtopics in the review should be arranged in a sequential and logical manner that will assist in narrowing the focus to the specific research question.
A well-structured literature review will help communicate the writer’s intended argument and convey the writer’s in-depth understanding of previous literature to the readers.
A substantive, thorough, and sophisticated literature review is required to produce a great research work. Therefore, equipping yourself with the knowledge on how to write a high quality literature review is imperative to both the learning and the writing process1.
- Denney AS. and Tewksbury R. How to write a Literature Review. Journal of Criminal Justice Education. 2012;1-17. DOI:10.1080/10511253.2012.730617. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10511253.2012.730617. Accessed 23rd February, 2020)
- Paré G, and Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews.In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, ed. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK481583/#NBK481583_pubdet . Accessed on 22nd February, 2020).
- Rhoades Ellen A. Literature Reviews. The Volta Review. 2011;111(1):61-71.