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Writing a Literature Review: 4. Read & Analyze the Literature

Evaluate As You Go

Before deciding what resources to incorporate into your literature review, you must evaluate them to ensure the information they contain is authoritative, reliable and relevant.

       

Reading the Literature

  • Read and summarise or describe each article, noting your findings and impressions.
  • Examine each article for strengths, weaknesses and validity of findings.
  • Is the author objective?  Is the information presented in an unbiased manner? 
  • Try to extract the unique concepts of the article that are central to a full understanding of the topic.
  • Look for points of difference between the articles.
  • Note that researchers may favour different methods such as quantitative or qualitative studies, look for what methods were used.
  • Take thorough notes on each article or book to be included so you won't have to go through them repeatedly.

Objectivity

Researchers should remain objective about their work. In deciding what information to include in the literature review, you should ...

  • keep an open mind

  • represent both sides of a contentious idea

  • consider work that runs counter to your own research hypothesis

Recording Your Research

Write up your search methodology
By providing details about the methods you used when searching, you should give enough detail for someone else to reproduce the same or similar results. Your search methodology should include:
  • where you searched (e.g. database names)
  • when you did your searches (e.g date viewed or retrieved)
  • limits you applied to your searches (e.g. date ranges, language, document type, etc.)
Write up your search strategy
Search strategies are often included as an appendix to a literature review and should give enough detail for someone else to reproduce the same or similar results. Your search strategy should include:
  • how you searched (e.g. keywords and/or subjects)
  • search terms used (e.g. words and phrases)
  • search techniques used (e.g. nesting, truncation, etc.)
  • how you combined searches (e.g. AND / OR / NOT)
Record your results
You may want to record results for all of your searches - this may be included as part of your search methodology or search strategy. This will help you and your readers to determine how much information may already be available on a specific subject and/or how effective your search strategies were.

Questions to Consider

Look critically at each article, book, or other form of information.  For each item that you might include in your review, ask:

  • Who funded the research studies?
  • Who did the research?
  • What was the (political, historical, social) context surrounding this research?
  • Is the methodology sound? What testing procedures, subjects, materials were used?

Some other questions to consider

Authority

  • Who is the author or creator?
  • What is their qualification or their expertise?
  • Is the site sponsored or associated with an organisation?
  • Are the contact details available - address, phone number, email?

Audience

  • Who is the intended audience - children, school students, tertiary students, professionals, amateurs, experts?
  • Is it easy to understand or does it require highly specialized knowledge?

Accuracy

  • How reliable is the information?
  • Can you verify the information found in other sources?
  • Do you have good reason to believe the information?
  • Is the information referenced?

Bias

  • Why has the information being published? Is it trying to promote a certain viewpoint?
  • Is the journal/site objective?
  • Does the content give the site a particular bias or slant?

Currency

  • Is the content up to date?

 

Now, step  back and ask yourself, is this appropriate for your purpose?