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 methodology.
Here we divide a review of literature in THREE different stages:
Selecting the most relevant readings on your topic
Summarize the most relevant ideas, themes and theories
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:
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)
Do you find improvable or inconsistent the dominant view portrayed in the literature you are reading? (critique of authority)
Has the literature a effective use of language? (Critique of rhetoric)
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.
Although the main role of theory is played in more advanced research stages, such as review literature or adopting a research philosophy and approach, the truth is that its importance begins earlier than this: “it should inform your definition of research questions and objectives” (Saunders, 2009). The word theory is probably one of the most misused and misunderstood in education” (Saunders, 2009). What is in texbook is usually seen as “theories”, whereas what is happening in the “real world” is practice. Equally, in the previous post under the title #thenatureofresearch was highlighted that many managers still base their decision making on personal experience rather than in research.
But theory consists of a relationship between cause and effect that it is not only present in the research world but also in our daily life. We all attempt to solve the daily problems that we have to face up in a similar way as scientist. We all constantly make hypotheses and check them according to our experience. Why do you usually take the bus number 3 if the 12, 22 and 48 also go to your destination?. Perhaps because according to your experience, the bus 12 is the least crowded. This schemata that you have in your mind derive in a theory, in your own theory. In doing your own research it works in much the same way. Following the example given in How to turn a research idea into a research question when #formulatingaresearchabout unemployment in European Union, you may develop your own theory after identify, for instance, a great relationship between unemployment rate and Gross Domestic Product evolution.
But coming back to the question that head this post, why is theory important in formulating a research, you must bear in mind that before setting such research questions as Why northern European countries registered higher unemployment rate? You must be aware of whether this question has already been answer in previous researches. Would you avoid looking up the buses bulletin board to check the prices that most suit you? In this way you will save the money and time require to check it by yourself. In much the same way, a preliminary review of literature will contribute to know whether your research question has been answer and whether you should formulate a different and not yet answered question such as, How affect unemployment rate in the different European countries in terms of suicide?, just for giving an example. In other words, to create new knowledge and to contribute to see further in your area of knowledge, you must account for the works created by other researchers.
And this idea leads us to the very famous sentence in the science world: “Stand on the shoulders of giants“. To illustrate the importance this idea, below you can see a video of a very nice tradition that take place in Terrasa (Catalonia–Spain) so called “Minyons de Terrassa” In this video, a student graduate would probably be represented by the little girl who reach the top while the rest would be the preivous researchers who has worked on your topic. Not every year the little girl achieves the top. Hopefully you will.
Objectives must always be set after having formulated a good research question. After all, they are to explain the way in which such question is going to be answered. Objectives are usually headed by infinitive verbs such as:
Returning to the example given in the previous post about Unemployment in European Union and considering the two research questions posed: (1) What has been the unemployment rate in European Union over the last decade? and (2) Why have northern European countries registered a lower unemployment rate than southern countries?; the objectives could be as follow:
1º To compare the unemployment rate among all European countries.
2º To analyse the unemployment rate evolution from 2002 to 2012.
3º To identify the factors associated with high unemployment rates.
4º To develop an explanatory theory that associates unemployment rate with other indicators such as Growth Domestic Product (GDP).
Once you find a research idea following the questions suggested in previous posts, it is time to turn such idea into a research question. Here are suggested a number of steps you may follow:
1º Identify what scope or organization your research involves. After identifying a sub-branch or area of knowledge you should choose an organization or scope you want to research on. Following the example given in the previous post about the microeconomic sub-branch “unemployment”, you might be interested in the unemployment in the European Union, or in the European Union and China. Maybe you just want to research on your city or region.
2º Formulate a general focus research question. The research question is likely to change over the rest of the research process but now you just need to formulate the question that flows from your research idea. Generally, these questions are headed by an interrogative particle such as what, why or how. Choosing one or another is not trivial. The questions headed by what like “what has been the evolution of unemployment in the European Union over last decade?” are usually descriptive researches as they consist of a description of a number of collected data.
Some authors like Philip and Pugh (2005) refrain from consider descriptive research (called by them “intelligence gathering”) as properly research although it may form part of your research project. Actually, the answer of this question is commonly the first step in the research process.
What Philip and Pugh consider research properly is usually headed by the particle “why” (also how). An example of this second question would be: “why do European northern countries register a lower unemployment rate than southern countries?” These questions go beyond descriptive research and require analysis or, in other words, they look for “explanations, relationships, comparisons, predictions, generalizations”. Therefore, the why question part of your research could lead you to work at the theoretical level (you can visit this link to understand what exactly mean theoretical level.
In short, below you can see synthetically the three components of any research question:
Interrogative particle + research idea or sub-branch + scope or organization involved = RESEARCH QUESTION
What has been the unemployment rate in European Union throughout the last decade?
Why have northern European countries registered lower unemployment rate than southern countries?
Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.
Try to classify your research idea first into its discipline (Management or related ones), then its branch (let´s say human resources) and finally the precise aspect or sub-branch in which you are interested. Let´s say recruitment. This process was termed as “working up and narrowing down” by Jankowicz (2005:34-6) The Russian dolls illustrate it very well. Every doll is supposed to fit into the following bigger one as well as your idea into a more general area of knowledge. In this metaphor your idea is going to be the smallest one.
This process is crucial for three different reasons:
1. As a way to find a research idea. Perhaps you don´t have even any research idea, but at least you know that you have more preference for, let´s say economic discipline, so that you start reading some general journal on economics. Among all branches you identify within economics you find microeconomic the most interesting and, more specifically, unemployment. Your idea of research could well be “Unemployment in Europe”, here your idea goes!
2. To take a clear direction. The “russian doll process” or “working up and narrowing down” may be reversed. It is, from the most specific one to the most general. Imaging that you have clear you research idea. For example, and continuing with the previous example, imaging that you have clear that you want to research on “Unemployment in Europe” but you haven´t even think over which branch or discipline it drops into. So you must try to identify the immediate more general brach in which unemployment is included. As you can see in the material provided unemployment fits into microeconomic and more generally into economic, which is one of the branch of management science. This process is crucial if you want your research to take a clear direction and, on top of that, to make easier the literature revision and data collection. Searching literature using the keyword “unemployment” in Google, finding relevant information is going to be as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack. But if you identify the discipline, in our example, economic, you may do a more effective search in a journal dealing with this specific branch, for example European Economic Review. Once in the journal, you can find interesting articles and papers searching by the keyword “unemployment”.
3. To match your idea with your career goals or the field you are more interested. Finally, integrating your research idea will help you to visualize whether it matches you career goals. In other words, if you want to focus your career in the management branch of finance, you should consider find a research idea that belongs to this branch (see What is a good research) Among other reasons, making a research according to your career, will contribute greatly to your specialization, which is a more and more important factor when looking for job today. And for sure, having a publication on your field of especialty will make you different among any other candidate in a recruitment process, specially when it is published in a recognised journal.
Below you will find a number of questions that may help you when generating research ideas:
1º What are your strengths and interest?. Think in previous subjects throughout your graduate. Is there any subject in which your grades have pointed out? Which one have you enjoyed most? Have you ever performed a remarkable work on a specific discipline or academic area?
2º Have you checked previous years research titles? Get inspired by previous years works. Ask your professor or supervisor for them.
3º Have you discussed your ideas with somebody? Remember how “post-it office” product was invented. The interaction with workmates was a key point. Get rid of your fears and shame and talk friends and classmates. It will be helpful to shape your idea and make it feasible. On top of that, in today´s social network society there are many professional and academic networks where you will find people willing to test your ideas.
4º Have you done a preliminary literature search? After discussing with mates, professor or in forum, you might also be suggested relevant literature. You can also have a look to some of the practitioner or academic journals such as the ones you can find in the right-side column. Look up possible books or reports in your library database. Review articles are of special interest for you since they usually contain a considered review of the state of knowledge in a particular area and suggestions of further research needs. One of them could be undertaken by you. On the other hand, books might not be up to date but by contrast offer a good overview of research that has been undertaken so far.
5º Are you up to date with media? Keeping up to date with items in the news can be a very rich source of ideas
8º Brainstorming and relevance trees. It is best brainstorming with a group of people, although you can do it on your own. According to Moody (1988), you should first define your problem or sort of idea you are interested in and subsequently, ask for suggestions, relating to the problem.