A literature review is an important part of any research study. When planning and conducting a research study it is imperative to learn about research that has already been done on the subject. By ascertaining what other researchers have discovered, it is possible to plan the current study around such results. Furthermore, by conducting a detailed literature review, it is possible to find any gaps in the research of the subject so far and, therefore, to aim the planned study towards contributing to such gaps.
A decent literature review demonstrates that the author is knowledgeable about their field of research. In identifying what the most significant issues are and how they relate to the planned study, a researcher will be able to decide on his position within the research context. Furthermore, a review can serve to justify the reason for the person’s research. He will need to convince his readers why his particular research project is vital to the field of knowledge. Finally, a review of this kind allows the researcher to form his theoretical framework and procedural emphasis. Even if he is suggesting a new theory or method, he is acting in connection and reaction to what has already been done.
If a person were to omit the literature review and simply state a hypothesis and then proceed with his study, it is still possible that he would obtain interesting results. However, he may be replicating a study which has already been carried out a dozen times and, therefore, is already a great deal of conclusive information about the specific angle of the subject matter. This could potentially be a downfall to the method of choosing not to conduct a literature review. Conversely, there are possible benefits to working in this way. When reading literature of past studies, it can be difficult not to be influenced by the information given. Some people may consider such influence to subconsciously stem their flow of ideas.
Although an important part of a research study, writing a literature review can be a difficult process for various reasons. One of the most common ones is that people do not know where to look for relevant information. Secondly, there can be a vast amount of existing work on the researcher’s chosen subject, and this can cause difficulty in deciding which parts are most relevant. Alternatively, the subject area may be currently popular and, consequently, knowledge in the field may be constantly changing and developing.
There are several pitfalls in writing a literature review and such pitfalls should be avoided at all costs. One is using too limited a range of materials in compiling the review (Lie, 2011). Selecting the first few works found, rather than finding a larger number and then carefully shortlisting the most useful and relevant, is likely to end with this downfall. This method of ‘choosing’ works to include can also result in the review containing irrelevant material.
Another drastic pitfall can be avoiding including work with a contrasting view of the subject matter (Lie, 2011). Some researchers do this as they do not want to include views that conflict with their own. However, giving focus to such works can, in fact, make a researcher’s study stronger and will demonstrate to readers that he has not been blinkered in planning his research.
Lie, K. (2011). Writing the Literature Review. University of Pretoria. Retrieved from