The work of a literature review can inform a scholar’s entire research project. From past scholarship, researchers often derive and refine key concepts, hypotheses, sampling strategies, analytical techniques, solutions to ethical dilemmas, and other helpful ideas, and practices.
Despite their wide-ranging impact, literature reviews are often associated with the introductory sections of a journal article—everything after the abstract and before the methodology section—because that is where scholars summarize prior research and explain how their article will add to it. In these introductory sections, much gets accomplished. Researchers expertly distill key points from the dozens or hundreds of prior studies that they have read; they identify competing perspectives, uncover important contradictions or disagreements that need to be resolved, and show the connections (and disconnects) between disparate studies—studies that may have been conducted decades apart by scholars in different disciplines and subfields. (Harris, 2014, p. 38)
The reading for this week focuses on literature reviews. You have likely encountered this component of scholarly research in your previous educational pursuits, but the importance and significance of the literature review in a doctoral program cannot be overstated. Locating and becoming acquainted with the body of research that exists on your topic is an essential skill for successfully completing this program. Moreover, your ability to write a literature review masterfully can convey to the readership your selective and interpretive treatment of prior works in a written form representing a meaningful and credible critique.
For this writing exercise, you will complete (a) a literature review scavenger hunt—as detailed in the textbook How to Critique Journal Articles in the Social Sciences, (b) a working bibliography, and (c) an annotated bibliography. The aim is to give you an opportunity to conduct a literature review and practice using two means that are beneficial for collecting literature information. When done well, the literature review can later draw on the findings included in the working bibliography and or the annotated bibliography.
Upon successful completion of this discussion, you will be able to:
What is a working bibliography? A working bibliography includes the sources that you discover in your initial inquiry into a topic. It is your first step after deciding on a preliminary topic for a paper. The working bibliography includes all sources that you discover as you begin your research. They may not all be used in your final writing as the focus of your paper can change, you may find duplication of what sources are saying, you may find too many sources. (Creating a Working Bibliography, n.d., para. 1)
What Is an annotated bibliography? An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.
Annotations vs. Abstracts
Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they may describe the author’s point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression.
Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.
First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.
Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic. (How to Create, n.d., paras. 1–3)
A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say, “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research (scholarship) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably. (Writing a Literature Review, n.d., para. 1)
Creating a working bibliography. (2021). OCLS. Indiana Wesleyan University.
How to prepare an annotated bibliography: An annotated bibliography. (n.d.). Cornell University Library. https://guides.library.cornell.edu/annotatedbibliography(new tab)
Writing a literature review. (n.d.) Purdue Online Writing Lab. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/writing (new tab)