The literature review process
Your literature review must be based on:
- Credible research sources
- A minimum of one quantitative and one qualitative research study
- One or two seminal or foundational sources
- At least five peer-reviewed journals and two websites
- Current sources from within the past five years (with the exception of the seminal or foundational source mentioned above)
In addition, your literature review must:
- Synthesize the research and provide a summary of how the selected literature helps support the research question.
- Discuss common themes found in the literature related to the topic.
- Compare and contrast the typical research methodologies found in the literature you reviewed—qualitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods.
- Compile your research question and literature review in an 8-page Microsoft Word document. Include a title page and a reference page and apply APA standards to citation of sources, including use of in-text citations and full references.
Here’s the guide and resources to guide you in writing this assignment down below!!
The literature review process
As emphasized in both Chapters 1 and 6, the literature review process is a continuous one which begins when you first start to develop an idea for your research and does not end until the final draft of the dissertation or thesis is complete. Throughout the book, we have highlighted that the ongoing nature of the literature review is an integral part of the research process, because your work is always interconnected with that of others. For this reason, it is important that you are continually exploring the related developments in your field and that you keep reading as new publications appear which may be relevant to your research. As time goes by, it is possible that you will come across different theories, methodologies and ideas which cause you to see your own research in a different light. These references will then need to be integrated into your writing in later drafts of your literature review.
You may also wish to revise your literature review in the light of your own research findings. It may be that your research generates certain results which cause you to change the focus of your literature review or even to introduce and discuss an area of reading that you had not included previously. Finally, it is important to mention again that it is through the redrafting of your literature review that you are able to fine-tune your arguments, and clarify and articulate the focus of your research and the research questions.
The following quotes are from the writers of some of the dissertations and theses from which extracts have appeared throughout this book. They describe what the literature review process means to them.
My reading gradually broadened out from a narrow base, as I looked up references in articles/books I read. Sometimes I returned to original sources for more in-depth information. The more I read, the better it all fitted together, and it linked back to undergraduate research on other topics so gradually, it became part of my ‘overall world view’. In terms of writing the dissertation, the lit review took longer than anything else! As I read more, I could edit out bits no longer necessary/relevant. This took a long time, and I found it quite challenging. However, the benefits of having done all the reading paid off in my dissertation, as well as in my working life. I feel I have a serious understanding of the subject, and it has built my confidence enormously. My research was based on educational e-learning projects, so I had the ‘working knowledge’ of the subject before I had the literature ‘underpinning’. It helped validate what I had learned in practice.
Claire Allam, MEd Education
Given the primarily practical nature of my dissertation, the original focus of the literature review did not change greatly during the writing process. At the onset, I focused on three main areas: a general background to the position of pronunciation in English Language teaching, the effects of instruction on learning and the specific features of pronunciation under consideration in the study.
The most obvious change in focus came from the fairly general reading which accompanies early research to the more specific reading which becomes necessary as ideas and focus are refined. For example, while reading about the position of pronunciation within language teaching, it quickly became apparent that I needed more information on what kind of pronunciation model was desirable for students. This in turn led to needing information on the notion of ‘comfortable intelligibility’ and accepted definitions of the concept.
With respect to the effects of instruction on learning, I began by reading easily available books about general theories of Second Language Acquisition (SLA). This helped me to provide evidence that instruction appears to facilitate learning. The majority of research, however, focused on general learning rather than the specific learning of pronunciation. Through some of the reading I did, I found references to articles about other studies which were of interest. In addition I used ERIC and ATHENS extensively to search for relevant articles which were ordered from the British Library (I was working in Germany at the time and had limited access to libraries).
As a result of the reading on SLA, I was able to refine the questionnaire given to all students to try and measure factors which affect the learning process such as motivation, attitude and exposure to the target language. This was extremely important as without considering these factors the research would have been seriously flawed.
Analeen Moore, Education and Applied Linguistics
Writing a PhD dissertation is like swimming in an ocean-size pool full with a variety of different marine life. You need to sort out them in accordance with the differences and similarities. Most of all, it is important to find a niche habitat for your own PhD or restructure the whole ecosystem of the pool, if you can. Since a student starts from scratch, it is normal to revise the original literature review in the course of doing research. In many cases, the aims and objectives are shifting over time, a development which makes the student change the focus of his or her literature review. At the end of the day, it is just a process of building a solid and coherent foundation prior to making the main arguments in the next chapters.
Key-young Son, PhD East Asian Studies
I must confess that my literature review was written in the final few months of my PhD. My PhD was done before the requirement that students write a literature review in the first year. Thus, I focused my time on writing papers (with specific literature reviews to complement the data being presented) and then wrote the overall literature review for the thesis by drawing from these.
Having said this, I agree with the argument that the literature review is often revised in the light of data collection. In fact, so much so that I have given up trying to write an introduction to a paper before I have the data. I usually start with the method and results sections, then write the introduction, then the discussion.
Tom Webb, PhD Psychology
Referring to the literature in your discussion chapter
When reaching the ‘Discussion’ sections or chapter/s of your dissertation or thesis where you interpret your research findings, it is important to revisit the literature to contextualize your work again within the wider field of study. At both the beginning and end of your thesis or dissertation, your reader must be able to see how your research is rooted in and contributes to the ongoing development of knowledge in your field.
At this point in your thesis or dissertation, it is helpful to remind your reader about the content of your literature review. This could entail a summary of the main points or you could refer back to the literature discussed in earlier sections and chapters, providing cross references for your readers.
When interpreting your own research findings, citations can be integrated to compare and contrast your findings with those of previous studies. It is important to point out how your work either supports or contradicts related previous work in your field. The literature may also provide a way for you to interpret your findings. A particular theory might provide a framework for your data analysis and interpretation. Alternatively, your data analysis may enable you to propose an amendment or development of a theory in your field.
Examples 10.1 to 10.6 illustrate these purposes for including references to the work of others in the discussion chapter/s of the dissertation or thesis. The underlined parts of the texts indicate where the writers make connections and show relationships between their research findings and the related literature.
Findings support an existing theory
In Example 10.1, taken from the masters dissertation on the relationship between pronunciation instruction and learning of pronunciation among English as a Foreign Language students, Analeen discusses the extent to which her results support Krashen’s hypotheses on language learning and acquisition. Note the first sentence of the section which reminds the reader about the purpose of the study.
Example 10.1 Findings support an existing theory
Effect of Instruction on Specific Features of Pronunciation and General Intelligibility
This study was designed to investigate the effect of instruction on pronunciation performance for learners at an elementary level of English. Given the time restrictions on the study, an elementary level was chosen so that there was not too much phonological fossilisation present in the sample and greater improvement could be expected from each learner than with a more advanced level sample where phonological fossilisation may have been greater.
It is interesting to note that both groups displayed improved pronunciation skills at the end of the study. Given that the control group received no instruction, this suggests that pronunciation skills are improved by exposure to the target language in the classroom. The control group appears to have noticed features of the phonological system and this has produced improvement. This would seem to support Krashen’s theory (1982) of exposure to TL at a level of (i + 1) producing acquisition because in the classroom a teacher monitors their use of language and new items introduced. Therefore it would be hoped that a large amount of input is provided at a level suitable for the students to acquire it. The findings of the t-tests on the posttest results indicate that there was a positive relationship between instruction and the production of specific features of pronunciation but not between instruction and overall general intelligibility. This would seem to confirm Krashen’s hypothesis that instruction produces learning but not acquisition since the learners were able to use what they had learnt when focusing on form, but they did not transfer it to their spontaneous speech when the focus was on meaning.
It is important to consider the listener-raters in relation to the results here. Despite the fact that the correlations between raters were very high indicating reliability, it may be the case that rating sentences is easier than assessing general intelligibility. When rating a sentence the rater is looking for a particular feature and the number of possible errors is limited. Spontaneous speech, in contrast, may contain many errors in areas such as grammar, phonology, fluency and discourse. The rater may be affected by a combination of these errors when making a judgment and thus not fairly represent just the subject’s phonological intelligibility. A further complication may have arisen due to the fact that all raters are used to German learners’ pronunciation of English, which may have influenced their perception of pronunciation performance. The raters may have penalised the subjects for making typical German pronunciation errors which did not impede intelligibility, or they may have not penalised the subjects for errors which could cause problems with intelligibility for those not used to German learners pronunciation of English. It might have been better to include some non-specialist raters so that any possible influence could have been controlled for. For these reasons, it is not possible from this study to provide clear evidence supporting Krashen’s hypotheses of instruction only producing learning and not acquisition.
Source: Moore, 2001: 31–2
End of Example
Comparing a new model and an existing theory
In Example 10.2, taken from a discussion section of a Psychology PhD thesis, Tom describes a theory (the factor model) which he has developed from his data analysis and compares it with a theory (model of action phases) previously discussed in his literature review. As in Example 10.1, observe the way the introductory sentence in the section reminds the reader of the focus of the research studies.
Example 10.2 A comparison between a new model and existing theory
Studies 2 and 3 provide an important analysis of both the conceptual structure of constructs from goal theories and their relative importance in predicting goal attainment. Both retrospective (Study 2) and prospective (Study 3) designs provided evidence that five factors – motivation, task focus, implementation intentions, social support, and subjective norm – distinguish when people succeed in achieving personal goals from when they fail. This discussion will consider the implications of the factor model for the distinction between motivational and volitional processes and then the predictive effects.
The factor structure supports the model of action phases (Heckhausen, 1987: Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1986: 1987, see Section 1.2). The first factor – motivation – embraced concepts relating to goal selection; intention, commitment, and attitude toward the goal (perceived utility). Thus, the first factor neatly parallels the predecisional phase of action, which consists of deliberating wishes and setting preferences (Gollwitzer, 1990). The factor structure also supports the distinction between the predecisional (goal setting) and preactional (planning) phases of action – variables measuring implementation intentions were distinct from motivational constructs. Notably, in Study 3 items measuring acquiescence negatively loaded on the implementation intentions factor which suggests that the opposite of forming a plan is ‘letting things slide’ and ‘not making things happen’. The model of action phases also acknowledges that achieving a personal goal is not simply about initiation of the relevant behaviour, but also requires maintenance of the behaviour over time. Thus, the actional phase refers to ideas of goal striving that parallel the present conception of task focus. For example, goal striving requires that one ‘puts energy into the task’ and ‘does not allow thoughts to wander.’ In sum, the identified factor structure discriminates between constructs that influence behaviour at different phases in the course of action.
Source: Webb, 2003: 84–5
End of Example
Explaining a finding using the literature
In Example 10.3, which comes from the same section of the psychology thesis as the previous example, Tom uses the literature to support his explanations as to why a particular factor (self-efficacy) was not a distinguishing one between successful or failed attempts to achieve a goal. Note how Tom, in the first two sentences, makes a connection between the material that has been previously discussed and the discussion that is going to follow. This is an example of a smooth and effective transition in the text.
Example 10.3 Using the literature to help explain a finding
The discussion thus far has focused on the five factors that discriminated successful from failed attempts to achieve personal goals. However, findings pertaining to factors that failed to distinguish the groups also merit discussion. It is notable that self-efficacy did not discriminate between participants who failed and participants who succeeded. One explanation for this finding is that self-efficacy may influence performance through the selection of personal goals, rather than influencing goal striving itself (Locke & Latham, 1990). For example, people are unlikely to try to achieve behavioural targets over which they feel they have little control (Bandura & Wood, 1989; Earley & Lituchy, 1991; Gibbons & Weingart, 2001). Alternatively, self-efficacy could have influenced goal achievement indirectly through task focus. For example, there is evidence to suggest that high self-efficacy leads to greater focus on the task whereas low self-efficacy directs attention to self-evaluation and increases self-doubt (Gibbons & Weingart, 2001). In sum, self-efficacy may not have affected performance directly because its effects were mediated by the selection of personal goals and/or task focus.
Source: Webb, 2003: 87–8
End of Example
Contribution of current research to existing theory
In Example 10.4, from East Asian Studies, Key-young discusses the contribution of his research to the theoretical debates in the field of international relations. After reiterating the limitations of realism and liberalism, he explains how his research has extended the role of constructivism in the field by using it to analyse the specific context on the Korean Peninsula between 1998 and 2003.
Example 10.4 The current research contributes to existing theory
Contributions to Theory
International Relations (IR) is rich in terms of the amount of literature on diverse features of international life. The works of theorists in this field, however, deal with similar subjects, war and peace, or conflicts and cooperation, but come up with diametrically opposed positions and interpretations. In spite of the abundance in terms of quantity, IR theories suffer from poverty mainly because of their incommensurability (Wight 1996). Realism witnessed its heyday for half a century between 1939 and 1989, a period marked by World War II, the Cold War and localized conflicts. Nevertheless, realism has somewhat lost its predictive and descriptive power with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s voluntary retreat from its Cold War status (Kegley 1995: 7). As part of efforts to overcome the discipline’s polarization and incommensurability, the neo-realists and neo-liberals formed the so-called ‘neo-neo partnership’, but fell short of formulating a grand theory, which can be called a paradigm.
Against this backdrop of inter-paradigm debates, constructivism emerged, seemingly invalidating decades of debates between the established theoretical schools. Constructivists claimed that another round of debate had begun between positivism and post-positivism, dismissing all past dialogues between realists, liberals and Marxists as positivist ones (Wight 1996). Constructivism imbued IR students with new ideas and tools that showed the potential for explaining the complex world of international politics. The new tools of constructivists, comprising such ideational factors as identities and norms, were potent weapons to explain the underlying forces of continuities and transformations. Nevertheless, constructivism ‘remains more of a philosophically and theoretically informed perspective on and approach to the empirical study of international relations’ than a full-fledged theory (Ruggie 1998: 856).
Therefore, this dissertation aimed to sharpen the constructivist approach to international relations and formulate a testable hypothesis in the field of strategies of engagement. In particular, this dissertation discovered the necessary conditions and social settings for the shift of a state’s identity vis-à-vis an enemy state and explained what kinds of tools an activist government could mobilize in engaging an enemy state to implement strategies of comprehensive engagement. Having analyzed a set of case studies, this research demonstrated that a constructivist approach is able to play a significant role in supplementing ‘problem-solving theories’ in times of momentous change. By formulating the identity norm life cycle, which is an historically grounded conceptual framework, this dissertation demonstrated that a given government, in this case South Korea, which finds itself somewhere on the friendship-enmity continuum, is able to act as a norm entrepreneur in order to successfully resolve the conflicts of interests with an enemy state, a dimension that was not addressed by the theories of realism and liberalism.
Source: Son, 2004: 359–60
End of Example
Interpreting the data using the literature
In the first paragraph of Example 10.5, Ei leen Lee refers back to a theory discussed in the literature review and explains how it has influenced her data analysis of the shift in language use of the Creole being studied. In the latter paragraph included in the extract, she introduces the concept of ‘negotiation’ to assist in the interpretation of her data.
Example 10.5 Using the theory to interpret the data
From the Findings and Conclusions (Chapter Eight)
In Chapter 2, three main approaches to the study of language shift (LS) in minority communities were discussed, namely investigating LS through domains, through behaviour and through bilingualism. The theoretical constructs underlying the approaches are drawn from sociology, social psychology, and bilingualism respectively. The review of these approaches demonstrates that the LS of [the Creole] needs to be studied, analysed and understood through an eclectic approachdrawing from an interdisciplinary perspective as the language behaviour of the speakers which is directing the LS of [the Creole] is brought about not by one but an interdependence of these factors.
Most studies of negotiation apply to the field of corporate conflict resolution and the term describes a problem-solving encounter between parties who each have their own agenda and goals. According to Firth (1995: 10), in many cases, ‘negotiation is used metaphorically to stress that the essential nature of a phenomenon is not stasis or fixity but its contingent mutability, its situated emergence, and its intersubjective interpretation … ‘. As human interactions are not predetermined or fixed entities, the concept of negotiation has been applied to the interactional and pragmatic use of language such as the studies on context (e.g. Kendon, 1999), turn-taking (e.g. Fairclough, 1992) and topics (e.g. Gumperz, 1982), to name a few. In most of these studies the concept of negotiation applies to how the parties concerned make an ongoing assessment of the situation to make the appropriate ‘move’. In the case of LS and revitalisation of [the Creole], I would like to extend the concept of negotiation to refer to [the Creole] speakers ongoing assessment of what is most important to their situation and how these priorities are manifested in their language choice, language use, attitude and response to the shift and revitalisation of [the Creole].
Source: Lee, 2003: 325–7
End of Example
Highlighting an unexpected result
In Example 10.6, extracted from the discussion of results in an engineering thesis, the writer presents an unexpected result in relation to previous work in the field. He then draws an overall conclusion beginning with the phrase, ‘It appears’.
Example 10.6 A surprising finding in relation to previous research
Several important ideas resulting from the microcosm work have now been considered at the field scale. Transferring the microcosm model to field scale has resulted in a new fully-kinetic, two-step syntrophic biodegradation model for plumes. This model has generally reproduced observed detailed MLS (multi-level sampler) profiles at a field site, and the pattern of concomitant TEAPs (Terminal electron accepting processes) in the plume core. In examining the similarities and differences between the laboratory and field case, it has been important to have a consistent conceptual framework, yet with flexibility to include differing parameter values as required by the different cases, and the fully kinetic model has met these needs. It was found that while the microcosm conceptual reaction model was transferable to the field scale, the value of the rate parameters were not, since the reactions are much slower in the field.
In both field and laboratory cases, the microbial activities of both fermenters and TEAPs change with time, and space, due to processes such as growth, bioavailability, acclimatisation, and toxic effects. An important result of considering acclimatisation. and consequent increase of rates with exposure time, is that the core reactions turned over more contaminant mass than the fringe reactions, which was not expected from former studies of the plume (Mayer et al. 2001; Thornton et al. 2001). It appears, in general, that reactive transport models used for NA (natural attenuation) assessment should consider such temporal and spatial changes.
Source: Watson, 2004: 69
End of Example
Task 10.1 Reflecting on making the connections in your own research
When interpreting the findings from your own research, for example in the discussion chapter of your dissertation or thesis, consider how you make connections with the related literature from your field. Have you done any or all of the following?
- 1 Have you referred back to a literature review chapter presented earlier in the dissertation or thesis by, for example:
- summarizing the main points from your literature review?
- reminding your reader of the content of your literature review with a cross reference (e.g. ‘In Chapter two, there was an overview of local authority policies on recycling’)?
- 2 Have you compared your findings with those of similar research projects in your field?
- 3 Have you drawn on a particular theory or theories in your field through which to interpret your findings?
- 4 Have you shown how your findings have shed new light on professional practice or theory in your field?
To summarize, this final chapter has considered:
- the ongoing process of a literature review;
- the significance of revisiting the literature when discussing the research findings.