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Conduct a literature review

Structuring your literature review

Your literature review should have the following components:

  • Introduction: Provide an overview of your topic, including the major problems and issues that have been studied.

  • Body: This is where you actually talk about the literature and your findings. There are a few different ways you can structure this section. Your professor may have a preference, so be sure to ask them first. 

    • Thematic: You may have noticed specific themes emerge as you did your reading; if so, this may be a good way to organize your literature review. For example, if your topic is behavioral problems, perhaps you would discuss different ways that principals have addressed these problems.

    • Chronological: To use the example above, you may have observed that the way principals deal with behavioral problems has changed over time. If that's the case, perhaps you want to give a historical overview of the literature.

    • Methodological: There are a number of different types of methodologies used in research; here's a list of research methodologies compiled by the American Psychological Association. In educational administration, you might encounter empirical studies, field studies, interviews, case studies, etc. Perhaps you begin your review by discussing empirical studies related to your topic, and then you move on to discussing case studies.

  • Conclusion/Discussion: Summarize what you've found in your review of literature, and identify areas in need of further research. Make sure to mention any gaps in the literature - things you think should have been researched, but were not.

Tips for writing about the literature

  • Synthesize, don't summarize. Here's an excellent example of synthesis provided by NC State University. The overall topic is women in World War II.

    While the articles used in this research agree that women made many advances during the Word War II period, it is crucial to realize that not all these changes were welcomed. In most cases women faced discrimination from just about everyone around them. Women in the workplace were often placed in positions of inferiority or treated as being less physically able to do the same work the men did. Many women were often not trained because they were viewed as temporary employees who were only there for the duration of the war (Bruley, 2003, pp. 221-222). Women were very rarely given equal pay as men, even though some of them did the same work. Women in the military faced not only mental abuse but also physical harm from their male counterparts. According to Cornelsen (2005), there were many instances where female aviators were injured or killed due to being made to fly ill-maintained aircrafts or aircrafts that had been sabotaged. (p.114)

  • Use quotes sparingly: Since the purpose of a literature review is to talk about many different articles, you won't be discussing any one article in great detail. NC State University suggests that there are a few cases where it's okay to use quotations:

    • If you want to emphasize a point
    • If there's no good way to paraphrase or rewrite the author's idea, other than to quote them
    • If the author has used or quoted certain terms which are not commonly known by the average person
  • Make sure not to misrepresent the author's ideas.

    Let's look at an example. Here's a direct quote from an article:

    ...digital natives constitute an ever-growing group of children, adolescents, and nowadays young adults (i.e., those born after 1984; the official beginning of this generation) who have been immersed in digital technologies all their lives. The mere fact that they have been exposed to these digital technologies has...endowed this growing group with specific and even unique characteristics that make its members completely different from those growing up in previous generations (Kirschner & De Bruyckerec, 2017, p. 136).

    This quote might lead you to believe that Kirschner & De Bruyckerec believe in the concept of digital natives. However, in this case, they are describing the thoughts of another author (Marc Prensky). In fact, Kirschner & De Bruyckerec's article argues that the concept of digital natives is a myth - in fact, it's right in the title of their article:

    Kirschner, P. A., & De Bruyckere, P. (2017). The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 135-142.

    As the person selecting the quotation, I could have been clearer about whose ideas I was expressing. Make sure you understand the author's intent when you're writing about their work.

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