Received: July 2010 Revised: February 2011, May 2011 Accepted: June 2011
Writing a literature review yields many academic benefits. It is an appropriate route for management students to learn academic skills, such as how to search databases and to search off line, and to improve practical and theoretical knowledge. It enables theory development unimpeded by the practical obstacles of gaining access to people and organisations to collect data. It requires the development of expertise in research methods, numeracy, attention to detail, and in the analysis and interpretation of data. Despite these benefits, the pedagogic literature has little to say about the best means of teaching students how to research and write literature reviews. This paper develops a three-stage framework for teaching literature reviews which gives explicit guidance for teachers and simplifies the process for students. The framework comprises a means of learning how to carry out a systematically informed search for relevant literature, demonstrated through examples; an approach to learning how to read and deconstruct a text in a critically informed way, through using a template with a questioning approach; and a way explaining how to reconstruct the material, using a simple metaphor to demonstrate how this is done. Keywords: literature reviews; teaching framework; academic skills; synthesis
In this paper we set out to discuss the ways in which reviewing academic literature has evolved and then outline a new approach to teaching literature reviews via a three-stage framework. A literature review is a requirement in assessed pieces of written work in management studies for many courses and institutions at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Electronic search engines and greater access to internet-based academic secondary sources, coupled with the drive by national institutions and government requirements for increased academic output, has led to a huge expansion in the number of published academic journal articles. The task of reviewing the published literature in a particular field is in theory simpler, as much more is readily accessible through search engines, but it is also more complex as the task becomes ever larger, and the review itself more difficult to organise, write and contain. In an academic context, literature reviews should have a defined purpose and an identified audience. They must contain an in-depth analysis of past research and from it create a summary, evaluation or synthesis to build an argument and make a contribution to knowledge (see Bruce, 1994; Hart, 1998; Baker, 2000). However, writing a literature review is fraught with problems for students because they have difficulty understanding what is expected of the outcome. In our view, literature reviews are inherently difficult to write and the results are often of poor quality. Students must develop a critical standpoint in order to write a successful literature review but it may be very difficult for students to understand and engage in a critique of academic literature due to their prior educational experience or cultural expectations. Nevertheless, it is important that management students write literature reviews because it enables them to learn about rigour in research, particularly when they are unable to collect primary data. Gaining access to organisations and specific groups in the population is increasingly problematic in many discipline areas, including business and management. Changing attitudes to data privacy, reinforced by legislation, mean, for example, that simple sampling frames used in past research, such as internal company address books and telephone lists, are no longer freely available to researchers. Writing a literature review helps students to learn how to...