Ah, the monumental literature review...
A review of scholarly literature is an essential component of any research project, but why?
Join Librarian Charlene for an introductory webinar to help you begin your assignment with a clear understanding of its purpose.
We’ll explore answers to questions like:
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The Research Process is modeled after Carol Kuhlthau's Information Search Process (1991).
Research often begins with an observation that sparks curiosity, or a problem that needs a solution. This curiosity leads researchers to conduct basic thought experiments that deconstruct ideas. They may ask questions like: What patterns am I noticing? How might my perception differ from reality? What factors impact this situation? Who is impacted by this situation?
Note that, at this stage in the research process, these questions are left unanswered. A comprehensive study by Carol Kuhlthau and colleagues (1987) has shown that this can cause researchers to experience feelings of uncertainty, but this uncertainty is what motivates individuals to begin the next step of The Research Process.
To gain a better understanding of a topic, individuals in the second stage of The Research Process often engage in a broad survey of readily available information. This information can come from a wide array of sources, so it is important for researchers to maintain the understanding that information may not have been empirically tested or peer reviewed. It may include biases, and may be incorrect or incomplete.
Take Wikipedia, for example. Content found on Wikipedia can be created and edited by anyone, so information found there may be unverifiable. Or, information may need to be carefully investigated. That being said, Wikipedia content often links to references that can be thoroughly evaluated for future reading. Click here to find instructions for mining references from Wikipedia.
In academia, individuals can gain access to introductory (and more reliable) information in many ways. Librarians can point researchers in a confident direction because we have collaborated to collect, describe, organize, and ethically share access to resources across the world. Researchers can also enroll in courses centered around specific intersecting topics, and many instructors provide their students with carefully curated lists of citations for essential readings.
Want to find websites by large organizations? Limit your Google Search to .org sites by typing site:.org at the end of your search.
REMEMBER: You should evaluate the credibility of .org websites, because any individual can pay to use a .org URL.
After gaining a general understanding of a selected topic by exploring readily available information, researchers use their surface-level understanding to engage in the process of identifying core concepts involved in their research. To help a researcher organize and consider relevant concepts, the following strategies are useful:
Once a researcher has gained a surface-level understanding of the core concepts involved in their topic, they must consult scholarly information to gain a more accurate and thorough understanding of the prior research on their topic. However, in research, there is always a lot of information (and disinformation), so researchers must conduct this step of The Research Process with intent.
During the resource collection stage, researchers engage in the process of developing a search strategy. This involves intentionally identifying keywords and subject terms that can be entered into a database to display a list of records. For detailed instructions on this process, click here. Note that, as researchers collect and review resources, they will be able to form specific questions regarding their topic. Eventually, a researchers transform their selected topics into clearly articulated research questions.
It is important to stay organized from the beginning of your project. This may involve paper, binders, and dividers. Or, it may involve a system of digital folders. Researchers may find Zotero to be useful, but there are many options and styles. What is most important is to remember to document your process so you can describe it in your later work. Others who read your research will want to know how you found your information, the details of your evaluation criteria, and the reasons behind your decisions to include and exclude certain sources.
After collecting a decent number of resources (usually between 10 and 30, depending on the scope of your project), researchers begin the process of engaging with, understanding, and evaluating the usefullness of each resource. Researchers then write an annotated bibliography (a contextualized list of references) and a literature review, which is an overview of existing, relevant, scholarly publications in their research scope.
Engage Meaningfully in 3 Easy Steps: Use the BDA Method
Before engaging with the resource:
During your engagement with the resource:
After engaging with the resource:
The BDA Method is an adaptation of Donna Ogle's K-W-L Method (1986).
Once a researcher has synthesized themes and trends present in scholarly literature that has already been published, they can begin to identify under-studied areas within their research scope. At this point in The Research Process, researchers use the knowledge they have gained during earlier stages in The Research Process to ask more focused questions, with the intent of generating more knowledge. It is at this point where an individual can confidently articulate logical explanations and conjectures, citing sources, based on the information they have acquired.
Boston College Libraries provides a good, brief, focused overview of literature reviews.
The University of Pittsburgh Library System offers good points to consider when writing a literature review. See the box "Why is a Literature Review Important?"
The University of West Florida Libraries also has good information to consider, especially this piece of sage advice, because literature review assignments can vary widely: "Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you."
Once a researcher has conducted the first 5 steps of The Research Process, they have the option of further investigating their research.
First, researchers use knowledge gained during prior steps of The Research Process to form a specific research question and articulate an educated hypothesis. Then, they design a methodological research study. It is essential for researchers to use effective methodologies for their studies. Methodologies can be thought of as: structures to ensure that research is replicable, reliable, accurate, and ethical. Researchers then use their identified methodologies to construct a framework for carrying out research.
They then begin to collect and analyze data from various sources in order to conduct their study. This data may exist within a database, it may exist within complex texts, or some researchers generate new data.
After outlining their methodologies and designing a scientific research experiment, researchers ask for feedback from their professional peers. The critique of one's research helps an individual to avoid submitting their work to publishing companies with errors, biases, or inconsistencies.
Once researchers have gone through prior steps of The Research Process, they are ready to share their findings (regardless of the outcome) with other researchers. Remember: Research seeks to find answers to questions, not to construct illusions. Publication of authentic research allows researchers to contribute to the tradition of ongoing scholarly conversation.
Prior to selecting a publishing company to which they want to submit their work, researchers do a thorough investigation into the ethics of the publishing companies to whom they reach out. After submitting an article to a scholarly journal or open education repository, if accepted, the article undergoes a rigorous review by subject specialists in the author's area of research. This extensive editorial peer review process is essential for maintaining the production of high-quality information.