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  • 00:05

    [An Introduction to Literature Reviews]

  • 00:11

    ERIC JENSEN: My name is Eric Jensen.I'm a sociology professor at the Universityof Warwick. [Eric Jensen, University of Warwick]

  • 00:16

    CHARLES LAURIE: And I'm Charles Laurie.I'm Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft.[Charles Laurie, Director of Research, Verisk Maplecroft]

  • 00:20

    ERIC JENSEN: Now, we're going to talk about literature reviews,how you write a literature reviewand develop it so that you can use itfor setting up your research project as a good foundation.So the first point to highlight is that researchis a social process.Ideas, research methods, and knowledgeall develop over time with researcherscritiquing and building on each other's work.

  • 00:40

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: This collaborative way of creating knowledgeinvolves explicitly referencing, summarizing, evaluating,and applying ideas from previously published researchand theory to establish the foundationfor your own project.

  • 00:52

    CHARLES LAURIE: Therefore, you mustdevelop a good understanding of what is alreadyknown about your topic in relevant, crediblepublications.Then you will need to effectively communicatethis understanding in your research report.

  • 01:04

    ERIC JENSEN: Your understanding of this prior researchaffects your research design, the selection of your researchmethods, and the interpretation of your findings.Your account of existing knowledge in your topicnormally appears as a major section in your researchreport, commonly referred to as your literature review.[What is literature review?]

  • 01:24

    CHARLES LAURIE: A literature reviewis a systematic account of what isknown about a specific topic using research, policy,and theory that has been publishedby credible sources of information.A literature review can be a research outputin its own right.More commonly, though, a literatureis written as one part of a larger research project.

  • 01:46

    ERIC JENSEN: So what goes into a literature review?It's critical that you should go beyond merely describingother people's research.Instead, the literature review shouldanalyze and critically evaluate both the methodsand the results of that research and apply itto your own topic in a clear and coherent manner.

  • 02:02

    CHARLES LAURIE: A good literature reviewwill help you establish a base of existing knowledgethat you can build on.It will enable you to categorize relevant literature so youcan group sources coherently.It keeps you tightly organized and focusedaround your research topic.It provides a framework with which you can criticallyevaluate the methods and claims of your sources

  • 02:24

    CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: as well as summarize key findingsrelevant to your topic.It highlights when aspects of your topichave received particular attention, disagreement,or controversy.[How do you conduct a literature review?]

  • 02:38

    ERIC JENSEN: So to get started whenyou're writing your literature review,you'll need to first place your topic within a relatively broadresearch and policy context to establishwhy your topic is interesting.Why should anybody care?Why is it worthy of study?And this will help to orient your readers.

  • 02:54

    CHARLES LAURIE: For example, if you'restudying how intravenous drug users amongst homosexual menin Barcelona engage with police there,you might start off your literature review sectionby showing how this behavior connects to government and lawenforcement policies, health care issues,or changing social norms about drug use in Spain or Europe,more generally.

  • 03:14

    ERIC JENSEN: You could think of this processas being like a picture puzzle.If you're trying to place your single piece of the puzzle,you need to see how it will fit next to the surroundingpieces in the overall picture.

  • 03:25

    CHARLES LAURIE: As you begin your literature review,you can save time by defining your focus as narrowly aspossible.For example, the topic about homosexual male intravenousdrug users in Barcelona would be hopelesslylarge and vague if the topic was drug use in Spainor illegal activities in Europe.

  • 03:43

    ERIC JENSEN: The more tightly focused your topic is,the more efficient and effective your research can be.So if you don't yet have a specific research question,at least try to sharpen your focusby talking to your colleagues, speaking to your supervisor,or doing initial reading about your general topicto help you focus your thoughts.You'll mostly be looking for sources at the beginning

  • 04:04

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: and end of your project.But be sure to continue this process of reading literatureas you go to reinforce and check your emerging ideas.Double back.Adjust your search.Explore new avenues while shutting off others.And then, gradually move towards the goal of understandingwhat is already known or claimed about your specific researchtopic.

  • 04:24

    CHARLES LAURIE: On the other hand,don't let yourself get caught in a hamsterwheel of aimlessly exploring one topic after anotherwith no focus.Maintain a laser-like focus on your research question,and keep writing throughout the literature review processto record your decision making and howyour thoughts are evolving.[How do you find and organize sources of information?]

  • 04:47

    ERIC JENSEN: As you embark on your literature review,you'll come across many different ideasabout a broad range of research conceptsespecially at the early stages of your research.You're exploring a topic and not following a linear path,so you'll investigate a lot of different approaches and ideas,some being fruitful and opening up stillfurther lines of inquiry, while otherswill prove to be dead end streets you

  • 05:08

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: won't pursue any further.

  • 05:11

    CHARLES LAURIE: For example, imaginethat you are visiting a new city for the first timethat you don't know much about, youtake an exploratory approach where you wander updifferent promising streets and alleys,stopping to explore further as you go,perhaps doubling back at times to re-explore certain areaswhile avoiding others that don't inspire your interest.

  • 05:31

    ERIC JENSEN: As you make your way through the maze of sourcesduring your literature review, it'sessential that you take careful notesabout your decisions and initial ideaswhile you're reading the articles.Tracking this process means you can get the most benefit outof your time by ensuring you don't haveto reread articles or books multiple timesto get what you need.

  • 05:50

    CHARLES LAURIE: Before you begin actually searching for sources,though, you need a clear search plan.Come up with a list of search words and phrasesthat would likely lead to information on your researchtopic.Incorporate synonyms, slang terms, alternative spellings,foreign languages, and different phrasings into this plan.This plan both ensures that you maintain

  • 06:11

    CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: good coverage in your search and that you can explainhow you went about your search.

  • 06:16

    ERIC JENSEN: It's important to weigh the strengthsand weaknesses of your various sources that you seek out.The gold standard for source credibilityacross all sciences, including social science, is peer review.When an article is peer reviewed,this signifies that experts on the topic of the articleor book have critically assessed itand decided it was worthy of publication.

  • 06:37

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: While peer review is far from perfect,and its quality can vary substantially,especially from journal to journal and publisherto publisher, it is the widely accepted quality controlmechanism in social research.

  • 06:49

    CHARLES LAURIE: Now that you have focused and plannedyour search, you need to know howto use your libraries available resourcesand be prepared to critically evaluate potential sources.

  • 06:59

    ERIC JENSEN: At this stage, you wantto be thorough in terms of the breadth of your search,but not get bogged down in the details of individual sourcesyet.Save the in-depth reading for the next stageonce you've narrowed down your sources that you'regoing to use to only those that are the most relevantand the most credible.For now, you just want to identifythe range of possible sources.

  • 07:19

    CHARLES LAURIE: Start with the electronically accessiblejournal articles, because they give youa clear sense of the current literature in your field.The content is easily searchable and abstractscan be quickly reviewed.Save books and other printed content and electronic sourcesthat are more difficult to access for laterwhen you can do a more detailed search.

  • 07:39

    ERIC JENSEN: Once you've gatheredyour first set of sources, start organizing theminto categories with a folder on your computerfor each category.Place downloaded publications into those foldersalong with a document containing copied and pasted detailsof publications that you couldn't download.Err on the side of being overly specific with your categories

  • 07:59

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: early on as you can always combine them later.It usually doesn't make sense to categorize by authorssince you'll be reviewing researchconducted by a range of researchers on overlappingtopics.

  • 08:11

    CHARLES LAURIE: Once you've created a preliminary setof categories for your initial set of sources,take stock to see if you can combine categories,if you need to expand your searchto get more sources for category,or if you should refocus away from any categories[How do you assess these sources of information?]

  • 08:31

    ERIC JENSEN: And now you're ready to begin reviewingyour literature in detail.Start with one category and begin reviewing each articleone at a time.To guide you through this process,ask yourself the following questions while you're reading.For example, has the author clearly defined the topicunder investigation?How significant is this topic?

  • 08:51

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: Are there methodological shortcomings?If so, how fundamental to the author's claimsare these shortcomings?What are the implications of these shortcomingsfor the author's claims?Can we believe what this author is saying?Is the chosen research method leading the authorto make certain types of claims?Does the source confirm or supportother sources you've read, update other material,

  • 09:13

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: or provide new insights beyond whatyou've already encountered?Beyond the credibility of the sourceyou're thinking of using, for research articles and books,you'll also need to evaluate for yourselfwhether the methods used in the studyprovide sufficient evidence for that study's knowledge claims.Don't assume that established researchersare producing good research.

  • 09:34

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: Always maintain a critical stancewhen reading for your literature review.

  • 09:39

    CHARLES LAURIE: To document your assessment of sources,take two different sets of detailed notes.In the first set, summarize the methods, findings,and a few quotes that effectivelydescribe the research results or conclusions.In your second set of notes, startidentifying connections, such as similarities or divergenceswith other literature.

  • 09:59

    CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: Are you seeing patterns emerging?The same major issues occurring?Are certain themes becoming clearer?Are authors coming to similar conclusions?If so, why?Or why not?As you prepare both sets of notes,clearly document the reference details for the publicationsyou are reviewing.[How do you write up your findings?]

  • 10:21

    ERIC JENSEN: Now that you've gatheredmost of the sources you need and done your in-depth reviews,it's time to start writing your literature review in earnest.Writing in small batches as you gather and readyour key sources can be very helpful.Otherwise, you can find yourself with lots of informationand no writing to summarize what you've got.

  • 10:42

    CHARLES LAURIE: Clearly organize your literature review.The widely used thematic organizational structurepresents sources within each categoryrelevant to your topic.

  • 10:51

    ERIC JENSEN: Your literature reviewshould include an introduction to the research topic thatemphasizes its importance as well assignposting what research has been conductedand how the section will be structured.For example, what comes next after the introduction,and then what's after that, et cetera.

  • 11:07

    CHARLES LAURIE: You'll need a body section next.That is the main part where you presentyour summaries, evaluation, and application of the literatureto your topic.If you are organizing your literature review thematically,you can start with the most macro-level categories relatingto your topic before gradually narrowing downto your specific research.

  • 11:27

    ERIC JENSEN: You should conclude your literature review sectionby summarizing the gaps your research will be addressing.

  • 11:34

    CHARLES LAURIE: The content of your body sectionmust be analytical and directed towards tellinga clear story about existing knowledgeand debates on your topic.Summarize publications as just onestep towards presenting any major patternsin the literature and relationships between studies.Use quotations only when the author says somethingthat is particularly pithy or when

  • 11:56

    CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: you are going to be disagreeing with the author's claims.This way, you can ensure that you are representingthe author's views accurately.

  • 12:04

    ERIC JENSEN: Now, be sure that you keep your own voiceas you write.You might feel pressured to mimicthe style or the terminology of your sources,but keeping your own authentic voicehelps to ensure the review presents your analysis and notjust a basic summary of other people's work.[How do you identfiy gaps in literature?]

  • 12:26

    CHARLES LAURIE: Identify gaps in the literatureby asking yourself the following questions.Are there areas of worthwhile studyrelating to your topic that have not yet beencovered by other researchers?Are relevant studies neglecting a particular type of evidence?For example, are they all qualitative or quantitative?Is there a relevant theoretical concept

  • 12:46

    CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: that has not yet been applied to the topic?[Conclusion]

  • 12:53

    CHARLES LAURIE: The point of the literature reviewis to establish what's already known about your topic,to show the need for your research project,and where it fits within the landscape of existingknowledge.Your literature review shows your paththrough the vast field of existing researchin which your specific study sits.Insightful and probing analysis of the literature in your field

  • 13:15

    CHARLES LAURIE [continued]: will help you more easily define gaps in the fieldthat your research can fill.Your literature review is the rationalefor your entire research project.

  • 13:26

    ERIC JENSEN: By identifying and mappingwhere your specific project fits into the larger researchliterature relating to your topic,your study's contribution becomes clear.Also, you can rely on existing knowledgeas a starting point for building your claims and your insights.

  • 13:42

    CHARLES LAURIE: As you conduct your search,take detailed notes.What key terms are proving more fruitful?What research areas seem like they'llbe worth investigating further?What authors and issues are recurring in the literature?Track your thoughts and document your journey.What seems obvious at the time can be forgotten later.

  • 14:02

    ERIC JENSEN: Your sources need to be relevant,and they need to be high quality.A good study from, for example, five years agowill be far more important than weaker work published recently.However, you may still be expectedto review the most recent research to showthat you're up to date.Remember that a secondary implicit goalin writing your literature reviewis the need to demonstrate awareness of the academic field

  • 14:25

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: you're writing in to the person who's reading your report.So you may need to include a paragraph or twothat situates your research within the biggerpicture in this field, even if it's not strictlynecessary to establish what's known about your topic.We advocate categorizing your sourcesto organize the research you gather during the literaturereview process.

  • 14:45

    ERIC JENSEN [continued]: Make your literature review organizedby telling a story step-by-step about what is knownand unknown on your topic.Most reviews are organized thematically by category.Whatever organizational method you choose,keep your review analytical with an eyeto defining the gap in the literaturethat your study will address.

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Literature review

Keywords: accuracy in communication; awareness; gap problem; knowledge bases; knowledge creation; practices, strategies, and tools; relevance (education); Social processes; Specific / diffuse; terminology as topic; understanding (epistemology); voice and visibility; writing (communication); writing (composition) ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Dr. Eric Jensen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Charles Laurie, Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft, explain how to write a literature review, and why researchers need to do so. Literature reviews can be stand-alone research or part of a larger project. They communicate the state of academic knowledge on a given topic, specifically detailing what is still unknown.

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An Introduction to Literature Reviews

Dr. Eric Jensen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Charles Laurie, Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft, explain how to write a literature review, and why researchers need to do so. Literature reviews can be stand-alone research or part of a larger project. They communicate the state of academic knowledge on a given topic, specifically detailing what is still unknown.

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