Purposes for a Literature Review - From a Class Paper to a Publishable Review - Conference Proposals and Article Types

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Purposes for a Literature Review
From a Class Paper to a Publishable Review
Conference Proposals and Article Types

The general purposes of a literature review are to: describe, summarize, evaluate, clarify and synthesize (Cooper, 1988). The literature review “creates a firm foundation for advancing knowledge. It facilitates theory development, closes areas where a plethora of research exists, and uncovers areas where research is needed” (Webster & Watson, 2002, p. 13).

Table 5.1 describes the many different purposes that a literature review can serve.

Table 5.1

Multiple purposes for the literature review

Self-study—to build background and confidence in writing authoritatively about a topic. This is the dominant use for literature reviews conducted by college students

Context—to enable researchers to situate their work within in the larger context, thereby making the nature of their original contribution clear

Historical, theoretical, and methodological—to trace trends in the development of ideas over time, identify major paradigm shifts, and examine methods used to study phenomena

Integrative—to identify the “state of the art” on a given topic and serve as “a critically useful interpretation and unpacking of a problem that situates the work historically and methodologically” (Lather,1999, p. 3). As such, reviews can assist researchers from different disciplinary specialties to see a topic of interest from the unique perspective of various experts

Sources: Jalongo & Heider (2014) and Neuman (2009)

Most of what is written about literature reviews tends to focus on potential benefits for those seeking to conduct research, whether novice or experienced. Machi and McEvoy (2009) define the literature review as it relates to original research; it is a piece of writing that “presents a logically argued case founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about a topic of study. This case establishes a convincing thesis to answer the study’s question” (p. 4). Activity 5.2 summarizes the six steps that they recommend reviewing the literature prior to launching a research project.

Activity 5.2: The Literature Review as a Foundation for Original Research

Look at the sequence below. Compare/contrast it to the work of reviewing that you have done thus far.







Unless you have some experience with writing research, your process may have skipped over steps 3 and 5. How can you institute this more in-depth approach to reviewing the literature?

Reviewing the literature can save time, effort, and resources invested in pursuing research. It helps researchers by identifying gaps in the literature, avoiding the wasted effort of pursuing a trivial problem, or investing resources in studies with methodological flaws already identified by others (Merriam, 2009).

Online Tool

Go through the tutorial from North Carolina State University that discusses literature reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/lit-review/