What is a Literature Review

January 28, 2019 Critical Thinking

What is a Literature Review?
Novice researchers tend to approach the literature review as nothing more than a collection of summaries of papers or an elaborated annotated bibliography of multiple research manuscripts (Webster & Watson, 2002). A meaningful literature review is much more. Hart (1998: 1), defined the literature review as “the use of ideas in the literature to justify the particular approach to the topic, the selection of methods, and demonstration that this research contributes something new”. He also noted that for the literature review, “quality means appropriate breadth and depth, rigor and consistency, clarity and brevity, and effective analysis and synthesis” (Hart, 1998: 1). J. Shaw (1995:326), pointed out that the process of the review should “explain how one piece of research builds on another”. Webster and Watson (2002), defined an effective literature review as one that “creates a firm foundation for advancing knowledge. It facilitates theory development, closes areas where a plethora of research exists, and uncovers areas where research is needed” (p. 13). From these definitions it is clear that an effective literature review should include the following characteristics: a) methodologically analyze and synthesize quality literature, b) provide a firm foundation to a research topic, c) provide a firm foundation to the selection of research methodology, and d) demonstrate that the proposed research contributes something new to the overall body of knowledge or advances the research field’s knowledge-base.
A literature review is a summary of previous research on a topic. The literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, and other sources relevant to a particular area of research or interest. Within the review the author provides a description, summary and critical evaluation of each source, i.e. the strengths and weaknesses. The literature review may also identify gaps or controversies in the literature and topics needing further research.