Literature Review Manual
Literature review is the survey of published literature on a specific topic. It provides an overview of the current scholarship in the domain and, as such, is the starting point of any research project. The goal of literature review is to answer the following questions:
- What have others done in the domain?
- What are their results and conclusions?
- What problem areas remain?
- How can we address these problems?
Field mapping is a method that allows for systematic survey of a research area in order to arrange the information for easy retrieval in future. It involves the identification of:
- Specific terminology used by scholars
- Timeline of significant developments
- Influential authors, books and papers
- Major publications and conferences
- Before we set about creating a field map, it is important to decide on a structure to store this information. Most of it can be stored in a simple database or even an excel sheet. For caching reference literature, it is generally useful to create a hierarchy of directories, from general research areas at the top to specific keywords at the bottom. This literature should also be indexed in a database or excel file for ease of searching.
- In order to understand the ideas from an area of research, one must first learn the field lexicon. Begin by listing down the terms used in published literature and general discussions between researchers to refer to specific ideas in the field. These will enable us to focus our search in specific domains and to narrow down the search results.
- Perform a breadth-based search using the list of relevant terms to find influential and interesting literature. Make initial decisions regarding relevance by reading the title and abstract. The objective is to identify important authors, papers, conferences, and journals, and to create a timeline of significant discoveries, achievements, and milestones in the field.
- Finally, it is time to dive deeper into the field using the previously identified information as a guide. For frequently occurring authors, find more information about their recent work, projects, research groups, collaborators, and preferred publications. This can help in identification of the sources of influential ideas and significant results in the field. Respected researchers also often write survey papers to describe the current state of research in a given area. These can be used to identify references and definitions commonly used in our problem domain and to see how our ideas fit within the overall research community.
- Once the field map is complete, it should be regularly reviewed and updated with new research topics, publications, papers, and authors.
Tip: Some conferences allow accepted papers to be downloaded within a couple of weeks of the conference. Since it can take a few months for these to be indexed, we can get access to cutting edge research if we are watchful.
Most published academic work includes a literature review to ground the study in the current state of research in the field. Despite the name, this is not just a review of recent scholarship in the domain, but instead its analysis and critical evaluation. Such a writing should be concise and to the point, stating and criticizing the relevant results rather than summarizing entire papers. Most importantly, it should identify the research gaps in the field and indicate how the study fills these needs.
Literature review is essential to any research project but it is also a fairly time-consuming task. Therefore, it is important to adopt an organized and systematic approach in order to make the process as efficient as possible. One might say, time well spent in creating a field map leads to a researcher’s life well lived.
This manual has been adapted from the course on Research Methodology by Dr. S.M. Hassan Zaidi. https://drzaidi.seecs.nust.edu.pk/