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Important factors to consider as you start to plan your literature review

Literature review is a necessary process when performing research. It serves several purposes for your research project.

First, it gives you a good idea of what research has been done on the subject and what the current trends are in prior or existing studies. A good literature review can help you position your study in the field and further build your study on prior researchers’ work.

In addition, reviewing prior studies can help you understand how other researchers are motivated in their studies and how they address their research questions by using specific research methodologies. It also gives you more ideas in terms of how you can better present your research findings.

But how can you start to plan the literature review? In this article, we will discuss four important factors to consider as you plan your literature review so you can engage with and benefit most effectively from prior and current work in the field.

Source of the study

The source of the study is a common consideration. It is a good idea to start with the reputable or higher ranked journals in your field. Since these journals are more reputable or higher ranked, the published papers generally go through a more rigorous review process, so these studies can give you clearer and more detailed information about the front-end researchers’ ideas.

Working with papers from such journals can also provide more solid evidence or arguments for you to rely on. You can learn from them in terms of how their papers are commonly organised and presented, so you can increase your own chances of being accepted by these journals.

Time periods

Although some fields are relatively new, other fields may be quite well established. In addition, some fields evolve or advance rapidly while other fields are relatively more stable, with changes occurring at a slower pace.

Given the nature of the field, you need to consider the time frame of the literature you are reviewing. Of course, you do always need to discuss the seminal papers regardless of when they were published, but you may want to determine the number of years you want to go back when searching for other relevant studies. 

In rapidly changing fields, three years can make a huge difference, so studies published a decade ago may no longer be relevant. Therefore, by setting limits on the dates of the literature you choose to engage with, you can ensure that you are drawing from the most relevant studies.

Focus of the study

Given that you may be facing a huge body of literature, it can be very useful to have a clear understanding of the focus of your study from the outset. This will give you a much clearer picture of what needs to be reviewed more carefully and what may serve as background information. Getting very clear on the focus of your study can also help you narrow down the scope of the journals and literature you need to search and the time frame of the search.

Professional versus academic articles

Often, when you are planning a literature review, you are more likely to turn to academic articles. However, bear in mind that professional articles or whitepapers in the field may also be relevant. Such works can be useful for helping to gather clearer information for and about the study and to develop clearer research aims.

In addition, in many fields, industry also may lead the development of the knowledge. Professional articles may have already discussed related issues to some extent, so a review of relevant professional articles may also provide additional useful information for your study.

 

Read next (second) in series: How to structure and write your literature review

 

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