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3 Tips for Preparing Your Next Literature Review

By Derek Higgs, MPA, Researcher

December 18, 2019

literature review

The benefits of a literature review have been well documented by researchers and their audience. It is well understood that a properly compiled literature review provides the reader with the necessary historical context by illustrating the shortcomings and limitations of prior related work. More importantly, preparing the literature review is a vital practice for the researcher because it eases the task of identifying the principle research question.

Having a distinct understanding of the research question from the beginning allows the researcher to stay on task throughout the process while also helping the reader remain engaged. Therefore, it is crucial that the researcher takes full advantage of the literature review process. The following tips will improve the maximum potency of your literature review.

  1. Understand the Purpose of Your Immediate Paper: Every paper has a distinct purpose, even within the same research project. Proposals have a different purpose than the final draft. Therefore, to get the most out of the literature review consider tailoring its scope and shape to the immediate document you are writing. For example, in a proposal the literature review should emphasize justifying the project. In contrast, the final draft lit review should focus on summarizing current relevant research, analyze the pros/cons of past research, and put your project into context.
  1. Understand the Contrast of Good/Bad Sources: A defining characteristic of the literature review is to compare various research methods that have been used to answer questions similar to yours. Therefore, it is important to screen your sources for any potential biases. The Utah Data Research Center is firm in its commitment to produce objective research. We aim to only use articles that clearly follow an objective agenda. To produce objective research, avoid any articles that have a clear bias or are argumentative in nature. The standard should be to only include articles that are peer reviewed.
  1. Try Using Spider Web Method Instead of Funnel Method: The Funnel Method is a popular strategy for gathering as much information on your topic as possible. You then weed out articles until you are left with the ‘crème de la crème’. This strategy is common with college undergraduates, and we are all guilty of it. However, to save countless hours reading over articles that you will never use, try the Spider Web Method. In this strategy, you find a single article that you believe is most relevant to your topic. Then, you select additional articles ONLY from that article’s list of references and so forth. This allows you to stay on a specific and clearly defined pathway and saves you a tremendous amount of time and energy.

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