An indispensable aspect of research is Literature Review. It is always there unless you are not serious about the quality of the research. But what exactly is a Literature Review? To put it simply, it is a review of the existing scholarship on a particular area of interest. Often regarded as a major step towards the formulation of hypothesis/research questions and the research problem, one needs to read and analyze the existing literature on the topic and identify areas that are and aren’t covered. But, is Literature Review as simple as I make it sound? No!
To conduct an effective Literature Review, you will have to consider a range of factors that contribute to a successful review. It will take time before you master the whole process, but once you do, you will have a proper plan of action for your research. Let us have a quick overview of how to do a good literature review.
Understand your topic or have a general area of interest
To begin with a literature review, you need to either have a tentative topic or a general area of interest in mind. Unless you have either you cannot have a definite start and will most likely end up scrolling up and down random articles. Of course, a quick survey of random literature can help you figure out a topic or area of interest. But, you should understand that you cannot build research on guesswork. If you have a topic in mind, read as much as you can; by the end of it, you will surely develop a fair idea of whether or not to go ahead with the topic or area of interest.
A literature review is extensive
If you thought a quick overview of the first few articles on the web or library is enough, then you do not get it at all. You will have to read and review a range of literature so that there is substantial material to back up your reasoning of whether or not to go ahead with the topic. For instance, if you are reading about the viability of Austin’s theory of law, then you should cover literature that approves as well as disapproves the theory.
Identify the problem or gap
Why do we do research? You don’t have to go all technical about it because the answer can be very simple. We research because we want to supplement the existing scholarship with anything new and consequential. How do we know that there is a need to supplement the existing scholarship? We review the existing scholarship and identify the gaps. Yes, exactly what I mean when I write that you must identify the problem or gap. For example, you want to write on regulating corporate funding in elections; read the existing literature concerning the steps taken to achieve the same and whether those steps have yielded any productive results. If there is a gap or problem, then you can work on it.
Organize the literature
One thing many researchers overlook is the need to organize the literature. In the course of time, you will end up reading all kinds of literature available. Hundreds of articles and books to keep a track of, and you cannot know what contains what unless you invest some time in organizing. You can go the conventional way, get the printouts and arrange them in a folder; but surely you understand that this method is outdated. Instead, you should make use of quite wonderful software that serve as excellent platforms to store, review, and cite sources of information. These include Zotero and Mendeley. Trust me, your life will become a thousand times simpler if you switch to any of these softwares.
Use your analytical skill
When you sit down to write the review, which is generally for the Master’s dissertation or doctoral thesis, you should be prepared to be analytical of the literature. The word ‘review’ means that you are simply not going to read the literature; you will read, understand, and analyze it. It would help if you tried giving your thoughts on what a particular article talks about, whether it covers the key problems, and what you have gained from it. Your review should not look like a summary of all the data you have collected.
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