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Writing a Psychology Literature Review
There are two main approaches to a literature review in psychology. One approach is to choose an area of research, read all the relevant studies, and organize them in a meaningful way. An example of an organizing theme is a conflict or controversy in the area, where you might first discuss the studies that support one side, then discuss the studies that support the other side. Another approach is to choose an organizing theme or a point that you want to make, then select your studies accordingly. Regardless of how you decide to organize your literature review, it will have two purposes: (1) to thoroughly describe work done on a specific area of research and (2) to evaluate this work. Both the descriptive and evaluative elements are important parts of the review. You can't do one or the other. If you just describe past research without evaluating it, you are merely summarizing information without digesting it. If you just discuss recent theories in an area without describing the work done to test those theories, then your arguments lack supporting empirical evidence. What to Evaluate Authors of literature reviews evaluate a body of literature by identifying relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature and by suggesting the next step needed to solve the research problem (APA Manual 1994, p.5). A literature review may compare studies in terms of assumptions about the research question, experimental method, data analysis, and any conclusions drawn. Literature Reviews versus Research Articles Literature reviews survey research done in a particular area. Although they also evaluate methods and results, their main emphasis is on knitting together theories and results from a number of studies to describe the "big picture" of a field of research. Research articles, on the other hand, are empirical articles, specifically describing one or a few related studies. Research articles tend to focus on methods and results to document how a particular hypothesis was tested. The Introduction of a research article is like a condensed literature review that gives the rationale for the study that has been conducted. Published literature reviews are called review articles. The emphasis in review articles is on interpretation By surveying all of the key studies done in a certain research area, a review article interprets how each line of research supports or fails to support a theory. Review articles are valuable, not only because they cite all the important research in the area surveyed, but also because they compare and evaluate all the key theories in a particular area of research. Again, notice the companion goals of a literature review: to describe and to evaluate. Steps in Developing a Literature Review Most literature reviews by students present the highlights of a research area and are not truly exhaustive. There is no strict rule, but a short literature review generally requires about 7-12 research articles and is about 10-15 pages long. There are three main steps: (1) select a research topic, (2) collect and read the relevant articles, and (3) write the review article. This straightforward-sounding process in fact requires quite a bit of work. Suitable topics must be selected with care and discrimination. Finding the right articles can be a challenge. Finally, once you have selected your articles, you must read them and understand their implications before you can begin to write. Each step is discussed in more detail below. Copyright 1997- 2004, University of Washington 04/09/04 litrev.pdf
SELECTING A TOPIC AND COLLECTING ARTICLES Selecting a topic, not writing the paper, is the hardest part of writing a competent literature review. Some research topics are much easier to write about than...