Step1 Writing a Literature Review for a Thesis or Dissertation

the literature review provides the rationale for your research topic it should give an overview of the current research on that topic making sure now that your readers understand why your topic is an important or significant problem to research it should also just identify any gaps in the research and this is important because it shows why your topic is significant and why time should be taken to investigate your research problem now your literature review should also review relevant methodologies which will show how the research is to be done and what you can do for your own research design to investigate your research problem in this lesson we’re going to define literature review and the concepts that are required for completing a literature review I’m going to introduce to you some resources that would help you understand the differences between a theoretical framework and a conceptual framework and then I want you to be able to apply the five-step process for completing a literature review for your thesis proposal even though the literature review is really the hallmark of a scholarly research we see it done in journal articles and government reports and certainly in dissertations and theses a lot of students may have difficulty defining what is a literature review and furthermore students may even find it challenging to synthesize works in a literature review and that’s not really able to write a coherent review and above all my experience in working with undergraduate and graduate students it’s shown me that students often have difficulty with the structure of the literature review they typically write a series of unrelated paragraphs each of which just summarizes one of the works reviewed rather than actually integrating the analysis of all of the sources together themes or headings I really want to make sure that you understand what a literature review entails and one a video that really helped me as a graduate student was from the librarians at North Carolina State University and I want to share with you how they define a literature review because it fits beautifully for extension education agricultural communications agricultural education or failing consumer science education and what we expect of many of our graduate students let’s just take a moment and listen to these librarians explain what is involved in a literature review writing a literature review is an inevitable part of being a graduate student so before spending hours of your time working on a project involving a literature review it helps to understand what a literature review is and why it is important you may need to do a literature review as a part of a course assignment a capstone project or a master’s thesis or dissertation no matter the context a literature review is an essential part of the research process some important functions of a literature review are that it helps you to understand a research topic and develop your own perspective on a problem not only that it lets you show your instructor or thesis committee what you know about the topic your instructor or advisor may assume you know what a literature review is and that you understand what they are expecting from you you might hear phrases like what does the literature show us connect your ideas to the literature survey the literature on the topic well before you can review the literature you need to make sure you know what is meant by the literature a good definition of the literature is that it is a collection of all the scholarly writings on a topic these writings can be in the form of scholarly peer reviewed articles books and other sources like conference proceedings these may be called annual meetings or conventions the literature also includes dissertations written by other graduate students collectively these make up the literature visual okay what I want to share with you now is a little bit more detail about how to go about finding those sources of scholarly articles the conference proceedings the books the dissertations that are going to help you complete your own literature review but to do that I want to introduce to you a five-step process that can really help you prepare right for writing a literature review and the first you need to search for existing literature in your area of study really focusing on finding information that’s gonna address your research problem and objectives it’s really important to stay focused I find a lot of times the graduate students wander and write about everything they possibly can find about the topic rather than always going back and asking themselves does this relate to my research problem does this answer one of my research questions what have other researchers done that I can learn from to be able to address my questions or my objectives of my study second you’re gonna have to critically assess the literature that you find to determine if that information is accurate and reliable enough to include in your literature review third you’re gonna develop a theoretical framework and/or conceptual framework some masters theses and dissertations will have only a theoretical framework so will have only a conceptual framework and a few might have both a theoretical framework and a conceptual framework and it’s really important that you work with your committee chair on determining what type of framework you need to include in your thesis proposal fourth you’re gonna create an outline of your theory and the existing research that addresses your research problem statement and your objectives it’s really gonna help you break down your content into specific headings and help guide you in writing your literature review so that you do remain focused and then lastly you’re gonna write your literature of you which is roughly 25 to 30 pages in length and I’m going to go through each of these steps in further detail so you understand a bit more about the procedures I’m going to show you some methods of collecting and organizing your sources I want to make sure you understand that when writing a master’s thesis proposal or master’s thesis you really need to use primary sources these are original reports journal articles that have been peer-reviewed that unpublished and monthly or quarterly journals or conference proceedings you may find a little bit of value and a secondary source like a book that would refer to a statistical method a data analysis procedure maybe a theoretical framework insight that in your master’s thesis but for the most part you stay away from secondary sources because they are referring to the primary sources and these authors are publishing articles and cyclopædia or books that are about those primary sources and one problem I always have is that secondary their secondary sources can report information wrong or they may provide insufficient details I have found far too many students will just read an article say I love that source paraphrase with that secondary author says rather than going and finding the primary source of information yeah it does take more time to find that primary source but by you reading it interpreting it and writing it in your own words you’re gonna prevent any misinformation misunderstanding a lack of detail or plagiarism and so I want you to focus on finding primary sources for your theoretical framework and review of literature now how do you go about doing this what I like to recommend my students to do is to formulate a list of search terms that are going to be relevant to your there’s prom and your objectives or research questions or hypotheses and depending on your structure of your study and as you find articles and theses about your research poems collect a natural list of terms that you can use for finding your information so for example my master’s thesis surveyed Ohio corn and wheat growers to predict their willingness to adopt organic farming practices since consumer demand for granite organic grains and processed foods was growing and I wanted to use two theories the theory of planned behavior and the diffusion of innovations so I developed a number of search terms that included organic farming organic agriculture organic wheat organic corn the theory of planned behavior the diffusion of innovations adoption of organic Road crops attitude toward organic farm barriers to adopting organic farming and then benefits of adopting organic agriculture and I would type then these search terms in a number of queries to actually search journals to search databases to find conference proceedings with fine and typing as keyword and see if I can identify a relevant article for my study so one place I would recommend you doing is to use your search terms and create queries for the journals that are relevant to your research problem and objectives some of the journals that are very popular in our disciplines would include the Journal of agricultural education or the Journal of extension the Journal of applied communications the Journal of agricultural education and extension the Journal of Family and Consumer Science education and the Family and Consumer Science Research Journal however I don’t want you to just limit yourself to these journals because there’s more research being published than what’s in your discipline that can relate to your research prob so going back to my example of my master’s thesis I’m going to look at farmers adoption of organic farming practices for corn and wheat I referenced articles that used diffusion of innovations and the theory of planned behavior from the journal of rural studies American Journal of alternative agriculture agriculture and human values the Journal of sustainable agriculture and the Journal of agricultural environmental ethics I had to go outside of my discipline to truly find all of the necessary research that would cover my topic thoroughly enough that would let me form my review of existing literature as well as my theoretical framework so I could investigate my research problem so while these are amazing scholarly journals in our discipline I do not want you to feel compelled to only use them you need to step outside of our discipline and look at these problems holistically and how other researchers from other disciplines would also study something similarly so that you get a real big picture of what has already been done I also want you to search some databases and Utah State University has an amazing library catalog of articles and databases available for us to use I have used ProQuest dissertations and theses to find other dissertations and theses from universities like Iowa State University University of Florida Texas A&M; the Ohio State University University of nebraska-lincoln that have been about my topics and it’s really great to look and see how another graduate student has looked at that topic what sources have been I did what information has been learned during that research process and be able to possibly use that source of information or use their reference list as places to go for possible sources I also searched my key terms in academic premier and Eric ScienceDirect or JSTOR all of these databases contain a plethora of journals that are available and helpful for our disciplines you can also identify some possible databases by your subject area so if you’re not very familiar with the databases type in agriculture or Applied Economics or communication or education and see what databases are found and then search those databases to help you gather the journal articles because simply doing a Google Scholar search is not enough when it comes to a master’s thesis and I don’t want us to be limited by what Google allows us to find I want you to be able to go to these databases find journal articles and be able to even request borrowing them so that you have access to the research that can help you write your realtor review you can also search conference proceedings from the different associations that graduate students can belong to within our discipline I happen to be a member of the American Association for agricultural education the Association for communication excellence and the Southern Association for agricultural scientists all of those associations have our cultural communications and have conference proceedings so I will login I will download those conference proceedings and I search for key terms that might be relevant because these are studies that are being done within the last few years before they’ve gone to a journal article and so you’re gonna have very current findings you can maybe check with your chair if you can get access to some of these conference proceedings or perhaps if your student member log in and access them but maybe their committee members would have some ideas places that you can search for sources that are not necessarily just journals I do want to give a word of caution newspapers magazines and radio stories can provide some limited information relevant to a literature review and they can give some insight into the recent trends discoveries maybe changes that can be relevant to your research problem and you might be able to cite them in your introduction or perhaps in the significance of why your problem is being studied but it’s not really the most appropriate place to have them in the literature review they might give you that background you need for chapter one to justify why you need to study the topic that you’re studying I also want you to do one other thing check the reference list so the sources you locate to find some additional sources I love going back to a journal article and then looking at their references and seeing seeing then if I can find additional sources and do those searches and find those articles and read the abstracts to see if those studies would help in writing a literature review and I would encourage you to do the same because that can help cut down a little bit of your workload and relying on existing tools they are to help you in finding information and I always want to make sure you understand that you never assume that you’re going to read everything related to your research so the great thing to do is to maintain a search record of the key terms and places that you have gone to find information and then you can help share that information with your chair and the colleges reference librarian so they know what you’ve done and then they may be able to suggest additional sources for you if you tell them oh I’ve done a literature review and you can’t tell them the search terms you can’t tell them the journals you can’t tell them the databases that you’ve done have you really done a thorough job researching your topic because you are the expert and your chair and your committee are mentors and guides that are going to help you but we gotta know what you’ve done so that we can make sure we’re suggesting new things and not being in repetitive in the search process so I keep a journal when I’m doing my research studies I have a great book I carry it with me and for every research study I do I maintain records that are gonna help be able to track what’s been done and what’s missing and then I can go to colleagues and ask for suggestions when I need help and I certainly did this as a master’s degree student and as a doctoral student because it really gave me a way to structure conversations with my committee chair and my colleagues so that I was not wasting time but that I was drafting a really well-written literature review