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Purpose of Literature Review

Written by Saira Naeem

What is the purpose of literature review in your research and why it is so important to have a thorough review of the literature before you begin your research?

You cannot conduct research without having a complete and comprehensive understanding of your topic or research problem.

However!

The question is where do you look for the understanding and knowledge needed?

A review of the relevant literature is probably the best answer to this question.

Many a beginning researcher don’t grasp the meaning or the import of conducting a through review of relevant literature before starting their research project. So let’s take a look at what review of literature is and what purpose does it serve in the research process?

Defining literature review

Simply put a literature review is a survey of books, articles and write ups and in the process leading to a discussion and a summary of past work done by other researchers that is relevant and related to your field and area of interest for doing research.

Does this mean that you just make a list that so and so researcher did such and such work, in this particular area, within this time frame?

Most certainly, this is not the case or the reason for doing a literature review. It’s a bit more complex than that.

A literature review is an enumeration, critical evaluation, synthesis and summary of past research in a logical and methodical way that displays to the reader

  • Your grasp and understanding of your subject area and
  • In the process helps you to address concepts, theories and other important issues that are related to your research.

The purpose of literature review

Many people when writing their research tend to overlook the importance of a literature review and treat it as a mere formality, that is, vaguely citing the relevant pieces of work by other researchers and leaving it that way. However, it is a fact that a well-written literature review serves as the background for your research. A literature review serves a number of purposes, an attempt is made to bring them into notice through the following discussion.

Understanding of your field

One of the most frequently stated purpose of writing a literature review is to demonstrate your grasp and command over your topic, that is, how well you know your field. Once you do the necessary homework correctly, I.e, analyze the sources, examine all the key concepts discussed in them, question their relevance to your topic of research, you would have done your work well enough. By taking a critical approach to the existing body of knowledge, exploration and mapping of the field you would be able to show the readers that you have a through understanding of the field and you know what you are talking about. This would make the readers take your work seriously from the very beginning and this is basically the main purpose a literature review is supposed to serve. To demonstrate to the reader that you know your area of research well enough!

Justification for your research

A properly written review provides the justification for your research questions and investigation. One of the reasons for doing research in an area that has already been investigated is the desire to contribute to the existing body of knowledge. A literature review would help you identify and address the research gaps that other researchers were unable to fill. Thus a literature review enables you to justify and helps provide a rationale for your research question.

Helps in developing the theoretical and methodological frameworks

A literature review also acts as the basis for providing  theoretical and methodological frameworks both of which are essential for research. By showing how other studies similar to yours were conducted in the past and by reviewing their strengths and weaknesses, you would be able to adopt the most appropriate methods and analytical processes for your own research

Support for your research

A literature review also serves the purpose of providing a reliable solid background and is an authentic supporting proof for your research findings, arguments and claims when compared to the existing body of knowledge.

Steering clear of duplication

Another important purpose served is that a literature review helps you as a researcher to avoid duplication and plagiarism of any sort. Once you have a knowledge of what work has been done, written and documented, you definitely will steer clear from reinventing the wheel over and over again. This saves you not only from any and all claims of plagiarism but also saves you from wasting your time and energy unnecessarily.

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