Writing A Critical Literature Review

The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?

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The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework. Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature. What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review.

If your assignment is not very specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.

Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse.

However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.

A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem.

A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.

This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

A good strategy is to begin by searching the HOMER catalog for books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues.

You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research.

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