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There are many methods to derail a dissertation, and an incorrect literature review is one of them. If there are flaws in the literature review, the rest of the research will likely be flawed. The reason is that it will be impossible for a researcher to conduct research without proper understanding of literature. Experienced examiners realize this; Mullins and Kiley (2002) observe that, examiners review a dissertation expecting that it would pass, but a poorly preconceived literature view often indicates that the rest of the dissertation may have problems. On observing an insufficient review of literature, examiners would look more precisely at the methods of collection of data, analysis, and conclusion.
While understanding the significance of literature review, it is astonishing that many of them are poor, both journal articles and dissertations. Boote & Beile (2005) assert that those who represent dissertation committees know the real truth that most of the literature reviews are poor, and their structure is in inappropriate language, but thesis and dissertations are the types of publications, which suffer from faulty literature review. In the literature review, many manuscripts submitted for publication also contain many flaws, and it is surprising that there is not in-depth information on how to write a review of the literature. Most graduate students do not receive formal guidance in how to synthesize and analyze the literature in their field. Besides, there is not enough information accessible on literature reviews, consequently, this complicates the problem, which is extremely labor extensive. An in-depth examination of a decent literature review will take two to three months to complete. The objective of this paper is to collect and summarize the most appropriate information on how to write a literature review.
1. Importance of the Literature Review
The literature review is very significant, because it narrates how the proposed research relates to prior research in statistics and demonstrates the relevance and originality of research problem; moreover, it is important to mention that specification of the area under research is different from other statisticians’. It justifies proposed methodology and exhibit researcher preparedness to complete the research. The thesis is usually a lengthy and substantial piece of professional work, which must fulfill a number of academic requirements. The review of literature is one of these key academic requirements. The literature review is a crucial discussion and extracts of statistical literature i.e. specialized relevance to the area and subject of the research problem. It is necessary for the researcher to spend much time on literature review, because if the review is accurate, the most of the dissertation will meet all criteria of research (Allen, 1976).
Conducting a literature review demonstrates researcher’s knowledge regarding a field of study, theories, vocabulary, phenomenon, key variables, and its history and methods. It also informs the researcher of the research group in the field and influential researchers. Finally, the literature review is a publishable and legitimate scholarly document. Besides the above reasons for writing a literature review, the scientific reasons for carrying out a review are numerous. Gall, Borg, and Gall (1996) explain that the literature review plays a pivotal role in the following:
1. Seeking new lines of inquiry and delimiting the research problem;
2. Gaining methodological insights and avoiding fruitless approaches;
3. Establishing recommendations and suggestions for further research and pursuing support for grounded theory.
Hart (1999) states additional significant reasons of literature review, including:
1. Finding key variables related to the topic;
2. Identifying what needs to be done from achievements of earlier research;
3. Rationalizing the significance of the problem;
4. Ascertaining the context of the problem or topic;
5. Understanding the structure of the subject;
6. Relating ideas and theory to application;
7. Gaining and synthesizing a new perspective;
8. Establishing the research techniques and methodologies uses and placing the research in a historical context.
Another key significance for writing a literature review is that it offers a framework for associating new findings to previous findings in the section of a thesis. If we do not relate the previous research with the current study, it is not possible to ascertain how the new research will advance the previous research.
2. Evaluation of the Procedures in Writing a Literature Review
An effective way to plan a literature review is to examine whether the proposed literature review adapts into Cooper’s (1989) Taxonomy of reviews of literature. Cooper recommends that literature review can be identified according to the five key elements: focus, aim, perspective, coverage audience and, organization.
The list below may look familiar, because it could recall a step by step guidance on how to carry primary research, but, in fact, it explains the procedures of performing a literature review.
1. Problem formulation
2. Data collection
3. Data evaluation
4. Analysis and interpretation
5. Public presentation
Problem Formulation for the Literature Review
The procedure begins with the focus moving to the formulation of the problem after identifying the appropriate literature review. In this step, the researcher decides on what issues the review will answer and establishes precisely and clearly expressed criteria to command the exclusion, or inclusion of the article/subject included in the literature review. At this junction, it is significant to make a difference between review questions and empirical research questions. The literature review has been the primary source of the empirical research question. The problem formation starts with determination of the research questions, which will guide the literature review. These questions must be significantly influenced by the objective and focus of the review. For instance, if the aim of the review is to incorporate research results, then a purposeful research question can be from the previous literature. What can be an impact of intervention X on outcomes of Y and Z. Whereas, if the objective is to analyze the research techniques used in previous literature, question may include: What are the methods used earlier to examine phenomenon X and what are those methodological errors of such methods?
If the review emphasizes on theories and the aim is to classify central issues, then a possible, legitimate question can be: What are the central theories, which can be used to explain phenomenon X? At this junction, it will be wise to search for reviews, which have already replied these related questions. The next step in the problem formation is precisely to ascertain the criteria for exclusion and inclusion. In simple words, review determines which articles it will include and exclude. The criteria are influenced by literature review’s aims, focus and coverage (Cooper, 1984).
The aim of the data collection step is to gather semi exhaustive, exhaustive, or critical set of related articles. As in case of primary research, the researcher’s secondary data not only formulate a systematic plan for data collection, here also the researcher should precisely document how he collected the data. The explanation of the data collection technique should be with such comprehensive that, theoretically, other researchers following the same methods would find similar set of articles. The process of data collection usually begins with an electronic hunt of academic databases and the Internet. When these searches are complete, accurate records need storage of each data base with the key words combinations and key words used and also the records resulting from each search. Reviewer should also ensure that these electronic findings lead to only fifteen percent of the articles that will constitute an exhaustive review. There are many other approaches in order to find the remaining 85%. The most efficient method is by searching the references of the articles accessed, determine which of those appear relevant, locate those, study their references, and repeat the procedure until a point of saturation. On completion of electronic and reference searches, the researcher should share the list of references with experts to determine if any missing articles. The data collection process comes to an end at the point of saturation, and the researcher has enough evidence to assure readers that everything in all aspects will be beneficial for conducting research (Moustakas, 1994).
In the data evaluation process, the researcher begins with extraction and evaluation of the information in the articles that meet the inclusion criteria. The reviewer begins with devising a system for data extraction from the articles. The focus and goal of the review determine the data extracted. For instance, if the research focus on outcomes and the goal is integration, the reviewer will extract research outcomes data from each article and determine how to incorporate those outcomes. After evaluation of the data, the researcher must document all types of data extracted and process adopted. Since it requires comprehensive detail, the recording of documentation is done by using a coding book and separate coding forms that include as dissertation appendices, or the reviewer can include the documentation in the main body of the thesis. Whether the reviewer records procedures for extraction of data in a separate coding book or includes within the main body of thesis, the level of the description should be such that, theoretically, a second person can arrive almost at same results by adopting the recorded procedure. A coding book is usually an electronic document, for example, a spread sheet that records date for each article. The coding book documents different types of data extracted from each article, the process applied and the actual data. If the research focuses on outcomes, for instance, the coding book must incorporate one or more variables, which track the extraction of research results (Laws, 1995).
Data Analysis and Interpretation
Finally, at this step, the researcher makes efforts to seek a sense of the retrieved data. If the aim of the review is integration, the researcher now integrates the data. A qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method synthesis takes place relying upon the characteristic of the data.
During this stage, the reviewer decides which information is more significant and appropriate for the presentation and which information is less valuable and not essential to include. In a thesis of literature review, the researcher can be liberal about how much information the review should contain. As discussed earlier, the formulations of reviews should be historic, methodological or conceptual; the primary audience for the review is the thesis supervisor and other reviewers. Lastly, the review of thesis is likely to satisfy the criteria of a more general public (Karathwohl, 1988).
The first significant characteristic of review is the focus. Cooper identifies four key of foci: research methods, research outcomes, theories, and practices. Literature reviews, which emphasize on research outcomes, are the most common. The Center of Educational Resources defines review as an analysis of information and synthesis, emphasizing on findings and not merely bibliographic citations, summarizing the literature and arriving at conclusions.
The goal of many literature reviews should be to integrate findings across units, outcomes, treatments, and settings; moreover, to bridge the language used across fields, or to resolve the debate within a filed. Meta-analysis, for instance, often used in review technique in which the primary purpose is to incorporate quantitative results across studies. In other reviews, the objective may be critically examination of the previous research, identify central issues, or theorize a line of argument within an area of study. Therefore, a thesis review has multiple goals, if the thesis is solely a review, the reviewer primary interests will be in integration, but it is also necessary to analyze critically the topic of research, classify central issues or formulate an argument. However, if a reviewer is using the literature review for justifying a later investigation, the aim will focus on critical analysis of the literature, to identify weakness and recommend a remedy to present the audience with the broad picture. In the absence of integration, the map of research viewpoint will be as large as the research viewpoint itself.