A literature review is vital to any in-depth research, providing a foundation your work will build upon. Familiarizing yourself with the existing literature allows you to identify current debates in the field, ensuring that your work is up-to-date and addresses significant questions.
But a good literature review will require reading critically. This means deciding whether you agree or disagree with certain viewpoints, arguments and theories, rather than simply describing them.
It also requires being able to spot the flaws and strengths of particular studies, which can in turn help when developing your own ideas. To make sure you do this effectively, it’s worth looking for the following things.
One common issue in research is the scope of its application, especially when dealing with limited sample sizes or when a study is generalized too broadly.
The conclusions of a psychological study conducted with all male participants, for instance, may not be applicable in the same way to female subjects.
2. Methodological Limitations
When writing a literature review, ask yourself whether the methods used for particular studies were appropriate.
For example, whether the study used a quantitative, qualitative or mixed-methods research design can make a big difference to the conclusions reached.
3. How Well Explained is the Research?
When reading for a critical literature review, it is important to consider how well written the studies you examine are.
Does the author explain their methods? Is enough detail provided for any experiments to be replicated? Are sampling, data collection and analysis techniques clearly identified? Does the conclusion follow from the results?
Asking these and similar questions will help you discern between good and bad research.
4. Identify Biases
Another important factor is to consider whether implicit biases might have influenced the research.
The term “confirmation bias,” for example, refers to the tendency to focus on evidence which supports one’s existing beliefs, which can lead to overlooking alternative hypotheses.
5. Challenge Your Own Assumptions
If you come across a study which seems to oppose your hypothesis, consider whether it presents good counterarguments to your own position. If it does, ask yourself whether this affects how you conduct the rest of your research.
The final point here is important because conducting a literature review serves two purposes. The finished literature review will help your reader to understand the background of your research, so critical analysis helps to clarify what your work contributes to the debate.
But comparing different studies and theories for a literature review will also help you to develop a research approach. The better your critical analysis, then, the better prepared you’ll be.