Writing a review of literature can be challenging for students. The purpose here is to try and synthesize a huge amount of information and to try and communicate it clearly to someone who has not read what you have read.
Often a student will collect as many articles as possible and try to throw them all together to make a review of the literature. This naturally leads to problems of the paper sounded like a shopping list of various articles. Neither interesting nor coherent.
Instead, when writing a review of literature a student should keep in mind the question
What do my readers need to know in order to understand my study?
This is a foundational principle when writing. Readers don’t need to know everything only what they need to know to appreciate the study they are ready. An extension of this is that different readers need to know different things. As such, there is always a contextual element to framing a review of the literature.
Consider the Format
When working with a student, I always recommend the following format to get there writing started.
For each major variable in your study do the following…
- Define it
- Provide examples or explain theories about it
- Go through relevant studies thematically
There first thing that needs to be done is to provide a definition of the construct. This is important because many constructs are defined many different ways. This can lead to confusion if the reader is thinking one definition and the writer is thinking another.
Examples and Theories
Step 2 is more complex. After a definition is provided the student can either provide an example of what this looks like in the real world and or provide more information in regards to theories related to the construct.
Sometimes examples are useful. For example, if writing a paper on addiction it would be useful to not only define it but also to provide examples of the symptoms of addiction. The examples help the reader to see what used to be an abstract definition in the real world.
Theories are important for providing a deeper explanation of a construct. Theories tend to be highly abstract and often do not help a reader to understand the construct better. One benefit of theories is that they provide a historical background of where the construct came from and can be used to develop the significance of the study as the student tries to find some sort of gap to explore in their own paper.
Often it can be beneficial to include both examples and theories as this demonstrates stronger expertise in the subject matter. In theses and dissertations, both are expected whenever possible. However, for articles space limitations and knowing the audience affects the inclusion of both.
The relevant studies section is similar breaking news on CNN. The relevant studies should generally be newer. In the social sciences, we are often encouraged to look at literature from the last five years, perhaps ten years in some cases. Generally, readers want to know what has happened recently as experience experts are familiar with older papers. This rule does not apply as strictly to theses and dissertations.
Once recent literature has been found the student needs to organize it thematically. The reason for a thematic organization is that the theme serves as the main idea of the section and the studies themselves serve as the supporting details. This structure is surprisingly clear for many readers as the predictable nature allows the reader to focus on content rather than on trying to figure out what the author is tiring to say. Below is an example
There are several challenges with using technology in class(ref, 2003; ref 2010). For example, Doe (2009) found that technology can be unpredictable in the classroom. James (2010) found that like of training can lead some teachers to resent having to use new technology
The main idea here is “challenges with technology.” The supporting details are Doe (2009) and James (2010). This concept of themes is much more complex than this and can include several paragraphs and or pages.
This process really cuts down on the confusion of students writing. For stronger students, they can be free to do what they want. However, many students require structure and guidance when the first begin writing research papers