How to Look at your Literature Review as anything but not a Nightmare

No one would argue about the importance of a rigorous literature review in any scientific research. In my experience, that was the longest and the exhausted step.

Before discussing the literature review process that I used in my research, I am going to share a very powerful resource that helped me in my master’s degree.

This is the second article in a series of articles that I write in order to share my experience with the academic research. Previously, I discussed my resource for a successful critical reading and writing here, and in this article, I am going to discuss the Literature Review process.

Succeeding with your master’s dissertation

I can’t describe the chaos that I had when I started my dissertation. What should be my research objectives? What research questions I am trying to answer? How do I proceed with my literature review, my findings, my analysis and discussion and finally, my conclusions? If you are a postgraduate student, I am sure you can relate to this.

The best resource that helped me to structure my dissertation was this golden book: Succeeding with your Master’s Dissertation: A Step-by-Step Handbook.

Succeeding with your master's dissertationThe book clarifies the whole Dissertation Life Cycle and the steps that you need to follow during that process. Each chapter in the book may correspond to a chapter in your research; therefore, you don’t have to read the entire book at one time. Instead, you can read it chapter by chapter according to the current stage of your research.

The book has a separate chapter for each main stage of your dissertations: the introduction, the literature review, the research methods, the findings and finally, the conclusions. Interestingly, when you feel like running out of useful verbs, the book can also be very useful because it has an appendix that you can use for this purpose.

Types of Literature Review

As may know, the literature review process in your research can be either a traditional literature review or a systematic literature review.

The systematic literature review is different from the traditional one because the researcher should follow the rigorous structure in searching, screening and synthesizing the previous primary researches. This type of literature review is widely known in the fields of healthcare, medical and social sciences and recently in the education and the management fields.

According to your research topic, questions and objectives, you might follow any one of them, but generally speaking, the advantages of using the systematic one are reducing the bias that is involved in selecting the collection of references that should be reviewed, providing a transparent approach and finally, the researcher cannot only learn but also develop new hypotheses from what has already been done.

In my research, I selected this type of review because my research topic was new. I am going to explain that later, however, in this case, I had to follow a structured review protocol in order to select the sources of literature, review them and synthesizing them in order to find answers to my research questions.

 Research Methods

When doing the systematic literature review process, and before going to the library and start reading whatever books and papers you find, you need to set your research methods first. Research methods’ chapter is a key part of your research, where you are going to explain the different decisions that you will take in your research such as how are you going to select your references up to how are you going to collect your data, analyze them and the rationales behind these decisions.

 My Research Methods chapter, which includes all the decisions that I made in my research under what is called “The Research Onion” is available here, and my research is now published in the TQM journal and can be cited as:

Ayat Saleh and Richard Watson. “Business Excellence in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous Environment (BEVUCA)”. The TQM Journal. Volume 29, Issue 5 (2017).

If it might help, here is a list of all the references that I used in my research methods chapter. They were very useful to understand the systematic literature review process and then the review protocol that I followed in my research.

  1. Biggam, J., 2011. Succeeding with your Master’s Dissertation: a Step-by-Step Handbook 2nd ed., Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  2. Cook, D.J. et al., 1997. The relation between systematic reviews and practice guidelines. Annals of Internal Medicine, 127(3), pp.210–216.
  3. Fink, A., 1998. Conducting research literature reviews: from paper to the Internet 1st ed., London: SAGE Publications.
  4. Geraldi, J.G., Maylor, H. & Williams, T., 2011. Now, let’s make it really complex (complicated): A systematic review of the complexities of projects. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 31(9), pp.966–990.
  5. Gough, D., Oliver, S. & Thomas, J., 2012. An introduction to systematic reviews 1st ed., London: SAGE Publications.
  6. Moher, D. et al., 2014. Guidelines for reporting health research : a user’s manual [e-book], John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  7. Reim, W., Parida, V. & Ortqvist, D., 2015. Product-Service Systems (PSS) business models and tactics- a systematic literature review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 97, pp.61–75.
  8. Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A., 2009. Research methods for business students 5th ed., Harlow, England: Prentice Hall.
  9. Tranfield, D., Denyer, D. & Smart, P., 2003. Towards a methodology for developing evidence-informed management knowledge by means of systematic review. British Journal of Management, 14(3), pp.207–222.
  10. Yin, R., 2014. Case study research: design and methods 5th ed., Los Angeles: SAGE.

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