Tuesday 11 July 2017

Literature Review for a Research Proposal: A Quick Guide

Literature Review for a Research Proposal: A Quick Guide

Writing a Literature Review in a Research Proposal

The longest section in your research proposal will be your literature review.

Your literature review should be about 3-5 pages of the most relevant literature in your field. It should cover some basic ideas linked to your topic, and touch on the keywords you’ve provided on your cover page. You need to demonstrate the breadth of your research here; show your reader that you’re a serious academic who knows something about your field. This will probably take the most time to complete in your research proposal, but it shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks if you work in a focused way. I’ll give you some tips about completing a literature review quickly in the next paragraphs.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to know everything before you start writing a literature review. For now, it’s just used to show your supervisor and the review committee that you’re familiar with all of the major scholars in your field, that you’ve read the ideas that you need to know before you start your writing, and that you’re considering all angles of your topic when you write your thesis.

What I advise my students to do is to get as many articles as possible that relate in some way to their topic, and then read the abstract and the first paragraph of each of those articles. This should take no longer than five minutes per article. Usually, you’ll get a good enough sense of what the article is about to include a short reference to it in your literature review, and to make a note for yourself in your research notes where you can summarize the main idea of the article and decide whether it’s worth coming back to. Then, for those articles, books or dissertations that seem especially relevant and worth returning to, read the entire piece and add a more nuanced paragraph or two in your literature review where you summarize the contents and explain the relevance to your topic of study.

Your literature review also has to have a logical flow to it. You are moving from one idea to the next in a logical way. That’s why you should plan your literature review in the same way that you plan an essay: it has to present all of the information in a way that eventually demonstrates why your research is needed, and why it will add to the field in a meaningful way. You could think of a literature review in your thesis proposal as an extra justification for why you should be doing your thesis: you demonstrate through looking at a wide range of literature that the work you are doing is important, relevant and necessary.

The way I plan a literature review is by listing various headings in a word processor document which cover broad topics or themes of my research. Then, as I read a new article, book or dissertation, I add citations under each of those headings, or relevant quotes that I think will be important for my study. Sometimes, I’ll add 10 or 20 quotes from the same article, all of them under different headings. This allows me to have a lot of wiggle room; I can see how the various articles relate to one another; I can cut ideas out and paste them somewhere else, or even add new headings as I go along. Once I have a rough outline, I can start fleshing out each of the headings into a few paragraphs, and then rearrange them to improve the logical flow of my literature review. There are some resources on logic and coherence on the Academic Coaching website that might help you with this section, so head over to writeyourthesis.com if you’d like extra help here.

Every few paragraphs, you could include a sentence or two criticizing the articles, showing the areas where they are incomplete or where further studies could be done, and then explaining briefly how your research will address those concerns. This will help the reader to know that you’ve read widely and that you understand your field of research, and that you’re already engaged in a debate with other prominent thinkers in your field. You’re already acting like an academic by showing that you are thinking critically about the information you are reading.

Review Your Learning:
·         Your literature review shows your knowledge of the field
·         You should point to gaps in knowledge or research
·         Present your ideas logically, flowing from one to the next
·         Refer to the most prominent scholars and the major theories and studies in your field to show the breadth of your knowledge
·         Criticize and debate with the ideas you present at some points