What is a review of literature?

A critically review of literature (CRL) is a process to account for the most relevant findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic.

It is important to distinguish between a CRL and a preliminary review of literature (PRL). As mentioned in previous posts, PRL just aims to help the researcher to find a gap of knowledge that hasn´t been yet cover by other works, as well as, to define the research objectives and question to address such gap. In two words, PRL aims to account for the state of the art of a specific field like, for instance, online marketing. On the other hand, a CRL goes further and describing and relating the most important finding of a particular topic in terms of theory but also methodEnglish:ology.

Here we divide a review of literature in THREE different stages:

  1. Selecting the most relevant readings on your topic
  2. Summarize the most relevant ideas, themes and theories
  3. Relate each other.

It is important to emphasize its critical character as long as the review should evaluate the merits and faults of the key literature within your area. Such critic might be done answering the below FOUR questions:

  1. Do you find inconsistent and/or unexamined the ideas generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in your field (conventional wisdom)? (Critique of tradition)
  2. Do you find improvable or inconsistent the dominant view portrayed in the literature you are reading? (critique of authority)
  3. Has the literature a effective use of language? (Critique of rhetoric)
  4. Is the information value free? (Critique of objectivity)

If are a non experienced researcher you must assume that a highly critical review of literature is just reachable for experienced researchers. For this reason, unless the literature review has clear faults, you are probably going to skip this step and just summarize and relate the most relevant ideas and at most, point out the lack of empirical data in, for instance, the country or organization you are researching on.

E.g.: Imaging you are reading literature on labor satisfaction (a sub-branch within Human Resources branch). Specifically, your review aims to identify the factors of labor satisfaction in small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). After performing a search in Google scholar using such keyword as “labor satisfaction” and “SMEs” you read the works made by two important authors, Locke and Lawler. The former considers that labor satisfaction mainly depends on personal aspects while the latter sustains that it depends on organizational ones and both have obtained empirical evidence after several research project in Europe. You, as undergraduate, are unlikely to be able to put into consideration the ideas sustained by such prestigious authors but you could, of course, contribute to the field of labor satisfaction. How? Applying those theories in your country or a specific organization. Your critic could well be, “lack of empirical data from China” or “none of these authors have conducted a research in among professor in University of Gdansk. So your research objective will consist of checking which of the two theories are right for your organization or country. Just picture for a moment how would be the title of your research: Does labor satisfaction in China depends on personal or organizational aspects?

Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoral ESIC Editorial.

Hart, C. (1998) Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. United Kingdom. London: Sage ISBN 0-7619-5974-2 Set book Open University Social Science Masters. Pages 230

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.

Wikipedia. Conventional wisdom. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conventional_wisdom

Wikipedia. Literature review. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature_review


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