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What Is the Point of Literature Review in Research?

Updated on October 23, 2016
"It's not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems long enough to meet their parents."

This is a quote inspired by Albert Einstein.

Off course, its main focus is on perseverance and persistence. Yet, it is relevant also, for defining literature review.

To answer a research question, the researcher first needs to know if it is a real problem, and if others did not already resolve it. Doing a literature review facilitates meeting the problem’s “parents".

Evidently, one benefits from searching the literature that is academically accepted. For instance, one accesses books, journals, scientific reports, thesis, peer-reviewed publications.

The first effort pertains to identifying the works produced by scholars, researchers, and practitioners.

In search of academic development

The researcher creates in the literature review a summary, a synthesis, and an evaluation.

The literature review will be an analysis of the methodologies observed. It will present their strengths and weaknesses.

The researchers benefit from becoming familiar with the research methods used by others. The viewpoints and the arguments encountered direct their own efforts. It is a valuable mean of academic development.

Therefore, in the beginning of a research, the foundation is the literature review. It can also be a work that stands on its own.

Albert Einstein, research
Albert Einstein, research

Frameworks and elements of inquiry

Are planning and management skills crucial in research? From John W. Creswell's work, one understands the engrossing mission a researcher embarks on. Creswell states that the investigator is better served by following a framework.

Three approaches exist, the ones for quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research. Though the framework use allows better planning, it is in itself quite complex.

To reach their goal, the researchers must keep the focus on the big picture, as well as on every detail. The author structures each framework around 3 elements of inquiry. Those are knowledge claims, strategies of inquiry, and research methods.

The knowledge claims pertain to the perspective researchers have on their mission and the methodology they use. Researchers make claims about almost everything related to knowledge. They wonder about

"what it is, how one knows it, what values got into it, how to write about it, how to study it"
John W. Creswell

Four knowledge claims exist postpositivism (quantitative), constructivism, advocacy/participatory (both qualitative), and pragmatism (mixed-methods).

Albert Einstein, research
Albert Einstein, research

Data collection and analysis

For example, the advocacy knowledge claims start from rejecting another school of research’s methods. The postpositivist claims are considered flawed because they do not include marginalized groups.

In the advocacy claims, a political agenda is used, and specific issues, such as oppression and inequality are addressed. The participants are not only subjects; indeed, they help design the study. Its goal is to obtain social justice.

The strategies of inquiry take the assumptions about knowledge claims at an applied level. They provide specific research directions. For example, a quantitative research might employ surveys and experiments, a qualitative one narrative and grounded theory, and a mixed-methods one transformative procedures.

Lastly, the research methods refer to specific methods of data collection and analysis. The author stresses that every study should consider the full range of possibilities. In practice, quantitative approaches could use numeric data and close-ended questions. Qualitative approaches might use open-ended questions. Mixed-methods would mix the two approaches.

Albert Einstein, research
Albert Einstein, research

Time management

Research is shaped by the problem it focuses on.

The importance of planning is evident here. Many factors might detour the researcher; also, the problems might change as the research progresses. Other factors that shape a research are the personal experiences and the audience aimed.

Mixed-methods researches are the most challenging ones. Since they use both quantitative and qualitative approaches. However, a researcher with a background in science that decides to use a qualitative framework might also need to pay special attention to their plan of attack.

Time and management advice from practitioners mentions acquiring such skills before beginning the research. Also, paying attention to all the elements of the research, not leaving parts for the last minute.

Unquestionably, advancing with all the elements of the research at the same pace is the best approach. Furthermore, a daily writing practice is recommended to ensure writing skills are on top.

The ideas presented are key aspects from University of London & SOAS University of London's course Understanding Research Methods, available on


The first quote:

Andrew Booth, Diana Papaioannou, and Anthea Sutton, Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review (SAGE, 2012)

Chris Hart, Doing a Literature Review (SAGE, 1998)

Robin Kiteley and Chris Stogdon, Literature Reviews in Social Work (SAGE, 2014)

John W. Creswell, Research Design Qualitative, Quantitative. and Mixed Methods Approaches Second Edition (Sage, 2003)


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