Literature reviews

Whether it be a thesis or a paper, it is normal practice to begin with a literature review. The aims of these reviews can vary, however, and how they are tackled depends upon their purpose. Literature reviews can:

• review the work done in a specific time period - for example 'The annual review of . . .';

• plot the development of a line of reasoning;

• integrate and synthesise work from different research areas;

• evaluate the current state of evidence for a particular viewpoint;

• reveal inadequacies in the literature and point to where further research needs to be done.

These different purposes define and control how and where writers search for the relevant information to review. Typically, researchers start by following up the references provided in several key papers and then proceed to the Internet (see Fink, 2005). The accumulating information (it never ceases) can be filed - electronically or in paper-based folders (see Chapter 4.1). If it is appropriate, it is also helpful at this stage to email or write to the authors of original papers to obtain copies of the materials used in experimental studies for, in my experience, the brief descriptions of such materials in journal articles do not do them justice.

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