and Focusing the Research
hen asked, Why do a literature review?, a somewhat cynical answer may have popped into some of your minds: “Why do a literature review? It is required for my research class,” or “I have to do a thesis or dissertation.” Then, again, some of you may have more socially redeeming motivations, such as wanting to change the world or improve your practice of a profession.
Literature reviews are important as research tools, especially in emerging areas, with populations that typically yield small samples (e.g., special education research often does), or in areas that represent value-laden positions adopted by advocacy groups. Literature reviews are also valuable in light of the knowledge explosion and the consequent impossibility of reading everything. Therefore, it is good that someone does literature reviews.
A few definitions will make your progress through this chapter more enjoyable: Preliminary sources: Databases that contain information about research articles that are published on the topic of interest to you.
Secondary sources: Literature reviews that are published on your topic of interest consisting of a synthesis and analysis of previous research published on that topic. Primary empirical research: Reports of studies that are conducted by the researcher(s) that include a description of the methods, sampling and data collection strategies, and data analysis and results.
ReseaRch and evaluation in education and Psychology
Reasons for Doing Literature Reviews
There are two major reasons for conducting a literature review: to conduct primary research oneself (or as a part of a team) or as an end in itself.
Literature Reviews for Planning Primary Research
Almost every primary research study begins with a review of the literature. The purpose of the literature review section of a research article is to provide the reader with an overall framework for where this piece of work fits in the “big picture” of what is known about a topic from previous research. Thus, the literature review serves to explain the topic of the research and to build a rationale for the problem that is studied and the need for additional research. Boote and Beile (2005) eloquently explain the purpose of a literature review in planning primary research:
As the foundation of any research project, the literature review should accomplish several important objectives. It sets the broad context of the study, clearly demarcates what is and what is not within the scope of the investigation, and justifies those decisions. It also situates an existing literature in a broader scholarly and historical context. It should not only report the claims made in the existing literature but also examine critically the research methods used to better understand whether the claims are warranted. Such an examination of the literature enables the author to distinguish what has been learned and accomplished in the area of study and what still needs to be learned and accomplished. Moreover, this type of review allows the author not only to summarize the existing literature but also to synthesize it in a way that permits a new perspective. Thus a good literature review is the basis of both theoretical and methodological sophistication, thereby improving the quality and usefulness of subsequent research. (p. 4)
Researchers use the literature review to identify a rationale for the need for their own study. Some of the specific rationales for your research that might emerge from your literature review include the following:
1. You may find a lack of consistency in reported results across the studies you have chosen to review and undertake research to explore the basis of the inconsistency. For example, Berliner et al. (2008) noted inconsistencies in research on high school dropouts; they suggested that the problem might be that researchers were not differentiating between high school dropouts who...
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