Literature Review, pt. 1

Uploaded by Wesleyan on 17.06.2010

Moving on, today we’re going to talk about the literature review. The literature review
is incredibly important. It’s not just an incredibly important skill because I know
that some of you have done some literature reviewing in the past, but it’s something
that you get better, better and better at the more exposure that you have to it.
It’s something in science that you simply cannot skip.
So why would you do a literature review? What is literature review? You probably all know
this. It’s an examination of the body of work that has been written about your particular
What will the literature review do for you? Why am I doing this, and why am I making you
do this? It will help you to understand the state of knowledge on your topic, which you’ve
got to do. You have some interesting, innovative ideas.
I can tell you that there’s nothing new under the sun, so somebody has thought similarly
to you in the past, and so you want to find out what that is. You want to find the methodologies
that people have used; the theories; maybe they talked about the research; the models
that other researchers have used that maybe apply to your particular research question.
It’s going to help you to ask your question better, and it’s going to help you to plan
your data analysis much better if you have this background knowledge. It’s also in
the more sort of proximal — in the more moment — in the next week or two what it’s
going to do is it’s going to help you to refine your topic. You might narrow your topic.
You might find that, in fact, that so much has been written about it that there’s no
hope for you to read it or to contribute to it because it’s very vast and so you want
to narrow it down. You may realize that you need to kind of expand your topic; that you’ve
started out a little too narrow and to get literature and to really have a more deep
question, you need to expand it a bit.
You might focus it in a little bit. You may be interested in this question, but now you’re
only interested in it among young people or old people or males or females or caterpillars
only on a particular tree species or something like that so it sort of allows you to do that.
Most importantly, it allows you to contribute to your area of research with something new.
Science is all about something new.
The other really important thing about the literature review is that it’s the way that
you always introduce your research topic in your introduction, which you actually will
be writing. It’s also what you use to interpret what you’ve found. It gives you the context
to interpret what you’ve found. So if you don’t do the background information, you
can’t create an argument for why this is important. You also, once you have your findings
at the end of the semester, you have no context with which to actually evaluate those findings.
The literature review will give you both of those absolutely key and incredibly important
things. So now you’re totally convinced. I’m a very convincing person. If you need
more convincing, come to my office.
Okay, primary source scientific literature. This is what you’re going to be relying
on 100 percent.
Primary source scientific literature, generally speaking, is journal articles reporting study
results. What I mean by that is it’s exactly like what you’re doing. Somebody went out
and they had data; they did a literature review; they did their analyses; they evaluated it
within the context of their literature review and what they found, they wrote that up. They
actually wrote up their data. That is what you’re going to be focusing on.
Secondary source literature — things like textbooks, handbooks, review papers, theoretical
articles, magazine and newspapers — all of these things are secondary source and you’re
not allowed to use them. Here is the only exception. If you are going into a topic that
you know very little about and you’re just interested, it would be a good idea just to
read a little bit of background. You’re not going to cite it on your poster or necessarily
even cite it in even the literature review that you’re doing in the next couple of
weeks, but just for background knowledge so that it will help you to read the primary
source literature more easily, I welcome you doing that.
For example, people working with the Connecticut Mastery Test Data, you should know a little
bit about the No Child Left Behind Law. You may not get a lot of that when you get into
the primary source literature. They may kind of assume that people know what that is and
move on to the details of the data, so you can read a little bit of secondary source
— like spend a couple of hours and then move on.
Problems with the reliance on secondary sources. They may describe or interpret results incorrectly.
Textbooks will tell you about a certain study. Well, maybe they’re wrong. I mean, nobody
is sort of keeping track. They often leave you unaware of the methods, and so you just
get this little bit of information about what the study was about. You may not know what
the methods were like; what the participants looked like, and it may not help you very
much so that’s another problem.
So how do you know it’s a primary source? One of the easiest ways to tell it’s a primary
source journal article that you’re actually going to want to read is that it’s structured
in a particular way. It has a title; it has an abstract, and the abstract, of course,
is abstracting sort of the summary of all of the pieces of the particular paper.
It has an introduction very similar to the one you guys are going to write about your
own topic and your own research project. It has a methods section that tells you how they
did the study; what the instruments were that they used; who the participants were and all
of those things that you have information on about your datasets. They have the results
and so the statistical analyses of the data. They have a discussion which evaluates those
findings and puts it in the context of previous literature, and then it has a reference list.
So if you have a paper in your hand that has generally those sections in it, you know it’s
a primary source journal article.