Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writing a Literature Review

Machi, Lawrence A., and Brenda T. McEvoy. The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009. 164 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4129-6135-6

Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students. Los Angeles: Sage, 2008. 170 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4129--3425-1

Doing a literature review is important both in academic and professional life. A literature review is usually a part of a journal article, a thesis, and a dissertation. What is a literature review and how does one do it? Two useful books on writing a literature review are The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success by Lawrence A. Machi and Brenda T. McEvoy, and The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students by Diana Ridley. Both of these books provide useful instruction for doing a literature review.

The Literature Review by Machi and McEvoy provides a six-step model for doing the literature review: Select a topic, search the literature, develop the argument, survey the literature, critique the literature, and write the review. This model is easy to follow and makes the process of writing the literature review understandable. The book includes many charts that illustrate the six steps. The writing is clear and anyone new to writing a literature review find it easy to understand.

Machi and McEvoy defines a literature review as a "written argument that promotes a thesis position by building a case from credible evidence based on previous research." The authors make an important distinction on writing to understand and writing to be understood. The first part is exploratory. The writer is discovering what they want to write. The latter is writing to communicate to others. The distinction between searching and surveying the literature is also helpful. In the first part you are surveying what information is available on your topic.

Ridley's book is a good companion to Machi and McEvoy. One of the great strengths of Ridley's book is that it includes examples from real dissertations in all the chapters. In chapter one, she describes what is a literature review and how one does it. She also explains the structure of a literature review. In the next chapter, she describes the different purposes of a literature review. Some of these purposes are: it provides historical background to your research; it informs you of the content of the discipline; it provides a justification for your own research. Chapter three explains how to find the information for your research. This chapter includes many practical ideas, like visiting the library early and getting to know your librarian. Chapters four and five discusses note-taking and managing your notes. Chapters six and seven provides information on structuring your literature review and information on plagiarism. My favorite chapter was chapter eight which describes critical reading and writing. Chapter nine provides helpful tips on how to communicate your voice in the review. The final chapter stresses the idea that doing a literature review is a continuing process; in other words, it is not linear.

Doing a literature review sometimes seem an overwhelming task, especially, doing it for the first time. These two books will make a difficult task a lot easier.

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