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Literature Review: Purpose, Objectives, and Guidelines

Purpose of Literature Review

The individual coursework is a Literature Review. The coursework has a dual purpose.

The first purpose is to help you to read and write broadly about theory and research related to a topic of your interest. For that matter we have decided to leave the topic of the review open. From the different ideas / notions / topics you will encounter during the module – choice aplenty – you are to choose one you find most interesting and conduct a literature review. Strategic Marketing is a very broad area inside Marketing scholarship and indeed each Marketing issue can be discussed under a Strategic light. Your literature review should attempt to delve as deeply as possible to the idea / notion / topic of your interest and illuminate gaps in the current theoretical knowledge. The review should provide a critical insight, especially to a new reader, into current thinking around your topic of interest. You need to demonstrate a broad range of references emphasising academic articles (journals). Secondarily you may support your review by referencing textbooks, web references, newspapers and professional magazines.

In the meantime feel free to browse through these excellent books on the topic:

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. Sage.

Hart, C. (2001). Doing a literature search: a comprehensive guide for the social sciences. Sage.

A literature review is an overview of previous research on the author’s chosen topic or on an important aspect of the author’s topic. A literature review identifies and describes and sometimes analyses related research that has already been done and summarizes the state of knowledge about the topic. The overall purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate knowledge of the existing body of research in a particular topic area. In other words, it retrospectively undertakes a critical analysis of the advantages and disadvantages as well as the theoretical perspectives, methods of research and arguments of existing important studies and research and shows which issues require new or further study – how the body of knowledge could be improved. As such, it is a useful way of arguing for new research to be done - for example, as part of a proposal for a research project or dissertation or as a report on the state of existing research. A literature review also helps you synthesize literature on your topic because in the process of writing a literature review, the author learns to

The Research Process and Literature Review

(1) identify various important issues/questions raised in the literature,
(2) sort and categorize previous researchers? views according to the issues/questions identified in the literature, (3) demonstrate the ability to scan the literature efficiently, using manual and computerized methods, to identify a set of useful articles, books and documents, and
(4) demonstrate the ability to critically appraise previous research that is apply principles of analysis to identify unbiased and valid studies.

The purpose of your assignment therefore is to serve as a report on the state of existing research and evidence that you have engaged deeply enough with a particular topic / question.

The research process often begins with a question that the researcher / author would like to answer. In order to identify what other research has addressed this question and to find out what is already known about it, the researcher will conduct a literature review. This entails examining scholarly books and journal articles, and sometimes additional resources such as conference proceedings and dissertations, to learn about previous research related to the question. Researchers want to be able to identify what is already known about the question and to build upon existing knowledge. Familiarity with previous research also helps researchers design their own study. Once this literature review foundation is developed, a researcher decides how s/he will study the subject, designs a research method or methods, collects and analyses the data, and reflects on what has been learned.

Research papers / Dissertations follow this same general outline as they begin with an introduction and identification of a research question, present the literature review, identify and explain the theory and hypotheses guiding the research, describe the research methods, present the results, and discuss the findings of the research.

Functions, Objectives and Questions

Following through from the overview the following section presents some of the functions, objectives and questions a Literature review responds to.

A literature review may have the following functions:

Provide background information needed to understand the topic under examination

 Establish the context of the topic / problem / question you have tried to address

Establish the importance of the topic

Justify the choice of a research question / topic, theoretical or conceptual framework, and method

Distinguishing what has been done from what needs to be done

Discover gaps in knowledge that lead to future research questions

Understanding the structure of the topic under examination

Uncover patterns of findings in the field

Functions, Objectives, and Questions

 Identify the main methodologies and research techniques which have been used

Discover important variables relevant to the topic

Synthesize previous research and gain a new perspective regarding the topic under examination

Relate ideas and theories to real life applications and / or identify relationships between ideas and practice

Enter into scientific debate

Enhance and acquire the language of the marketing discipline

Show the reader you are familiar with significant and/or up-to-date research relevant to the topic /question

Establish your review position as one link in a chain of research that is developing knowledge in your field

A literature review traditionally provides a historical and / or thematic overview of the theory and the research literature, with a special emphasis on the literature specific to the topic / question you have chosen. It may as well serve to support a particular argument / proposition behind a thesis / dissertation / paper or suggestions for future research, using evidence drawn from the work of previous researchers in your chosen topic / question.

Authors should try to accomplish the following four important objectives in preparing a literature review:

The review should provide a thorough overview of previous research on the topic. This should be a helpful review for readers who are already familiar with the topic and an essential background for readers who are new to the topic. The review should provide a clear sense about how the author?s understanding and / or questioning of the topic fits into the broader understanding of the topic from previous authors. When the reader completes reading of the

literature review, s/he should be able to say, “I now know what previous research has learned about this topic.”

The review should contain references to important previous studies related to the (research) question / topic that are found in high quality sources such as scholarly books and journals. A good literature review conveys to readers that the author has been conscientious in examining previous research and that the author?s understanding and questioning builds on what is already known. In this process, highly interested readers are also provided with a set of references that they may wish to read themselves.

The review should be succinct and well-organized. Most scholarly journals stipulate a maximum length for papers submitted for publication, and often this is only about 20 pages. After all of the work that has gone into a paper, authors typically feel they could write at least twice that much. Thus, every page is precious, and authors must learn how to write succinctly. A typical literature review is only about 3, 4, or 5 of the 20 pages, and it must contain a lot of information. Therefore, it is necessary to do it succinctly. In your case the Literature Review is 1,500 words which means that you will need to force yourselves to be explicitly succinct.

Guidelines for Conducting a Literature Review

Many authors like to begin with a short “Introduction” section that identifies the general topic and its importance. This is followed by the “Literature Review” section that provides the overview of previous research and explains what has and what has not already been learned. Much of the focus of the literature review is on previous research related to their attempts to address the topic under question.

The review should follow generally established stylistic guidelines (see the example articles on Moodle). This conveys to readers that the author is familiar with scholarly publication style, and that can add legitimacy to the author?s work. Plus, when the typical style is used, it is easier for readers to immediately follow the paper?s organization.

Some questions your Literature Review should try and answer are:

What are the key sources?

What are the major issues and debates about in the topic?

What are the origins and definitions of the topic?

What are the theoretical, methodological, disciplinary, ideological, political standpoints?

Which of these standpoints are key?

How is knowledge on the topic structured and organised?

How have previous approaches to the question / topic under investigation increased our understanding and knowledge?

What are the main questions and problems of the particular topic area that have been addressed to date?

The preceding suggestions may be helpful in obtaining an adequate level of initial analysis, that is obtaining and adequate level of literature review. Achieving a penetrating and keen review of higher level however demands the application of more sophisticated forms of criticism. These are, in the main, associated with the identification of logical flaws in the literature you are reviewing. Consequently you will need to display the ability to:

Recognise un-stated and invalid assumptions in arguments.

Distinguish facts from hypotheses.

Distinguish facts from opinions.

Distinguish an argument?s conclusions from the statements that support it.

Recognise what kind of evidence is relevant and essential for the validation of an argument.

Recognise how much evidence is needed to support a conclusion.

Distinguish between relevant and irrelevant statements and evidence.

Identify logical fallacies.

Below follows a list of questions that you should ask from each article that you are reading.

Has the author formulated a problem/issue?

Is the problem/issue ambiguous or clearly articulated? Is its significance (scope, severity, relevance) discussed?

What are the strengths and limitations of the way the author has formulated the problem or issue?

Could the problem have been approached more effectively from another perspective?


What is the author's research orientation (e.g., interpretive, critical science, combination)?

What is the author's theoretical framework (e.g., psychoanalytic, developmental, feminist)?

What is the relationship between the theoretical and research perspectives?

Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the problem/issue? Does the author include literature taking positions s/he does not agree with?

In a research study, how well does the author justify the choice of method /methodology? If the study is quantitative how good is the study design? How accurate and valid are the measurements? Is the analysis of the data accurate and relevant to the research question? Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis? If it is a qualitative study how well does the author describe the interpretive process? How well does their underlying theoretical view fit with the topic / question under examination? Is the choice of their participants meaningful / purposeful?

How does the author structure his or her argument? Can you “deconstruct” the flow of the argument to analyse if/where it breaks down?

Is this a book or article that contributes to our understanding of the problem under study, and in what ways is it useful for theory or practice? What are its strengths and limitations?

How does this book or article fit into the thesis or question I am developing?

In practitioner / managerial / popular literature, does the author use appeals to emotion, one- sided examples, rhetorically-charged language and tone? Is the author objective, or is s/he merely “proving” what s/he already believes?

A review of the literature should:

Define a topic

Justify the topic?s importance

Identify Key Researchers , articles, theoretical frameworks, methodologies

Overview the different approaches to empirical research (quantitative and qualitative)

Overview how knowledge around the specific topic has developed

Recommend fresh research which could be carried out to generate new knowledge regarding the topic under question

As an author you should show to your reader that:

You have a clear understanding of the key concepts / ideas / studies / models related to your topic

You know about the history of your topic and any related controversies

You can discuss these ideas in a context appropriate for your own investigation

You can evaluate the work of others

You have clarified important definitions / terminology

You have developed the research space you will also indicate in the Introduction and Abstract

Narrow the topic enough so that the review is not too broad attempting to cover everything in one go but at the same time remains relevant and interesting without being too narrow

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