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Ho to write The Literature Review

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The first step in carrying out any kind of academic research is to take stock of the existing knowledge about the problem or issue under consideration. This involves the identification and critical review of relevant literature, and should provide a context for your own analysis of the topic. This is not only in terms of setting out the development of theory, current position and any recent empirical research, but also by establishing the analytical framework from which you are approaching the topic. The review will form an important early section of your final dissertation.

This section provides guidelines for conducting the literature review and sets out some approaches to tackling the task of locating the relevant material and extracting the information you need.Get custom written paper at my private

The Role of the Literature Review

Your dissertation should be based on the established body of knowledge appropriate to the problem or issue you select. You will be familiar with at least some of this knowledge from your previous studies, but the requirements of this piece of work go beyond that. You need to survey and report upon a reasonably large number of documentary sources, such that you can provide a clear academic context to your consideration of the topic.Get custom written paper at my private

There are three main objectives to this:
1. to locate your preliminary ideas about the selected topic within a wider body of knowledge;
2. to identify relevant concepts, methods, techniques and facts as a means of positioning your study and helping you to frame the issue or problem; and
3. to give meaning, structure and purpose to your research.

This, then, requires a systematic approach to identifying appropriate sources of information. It is important, though, to note at the outset that this is not something that can be carried out as an afterthought. It is a key element of the early stages of planning your dissertation. It helps you explore the existing knowledge about the topic and the approach you plan to take to analyse it.

You must establish clearly your familiarity with the relevant literature and your ability to apply it in defining the problem or issue at the heart of the project and the approach you will take in its analysis. The literature review is, then, the first step in developing your dissertation. Note, though, that you should continue the review process – although not, perhaps, so intensively – throughout the project, in order both to investigate additional topics as they arise and to keep the whole review up-to-date. Do not consider it to be finished when you first write it up. Get custom written paper at my private

So, start now, keep reading once you have completed the initial literature review, continue reading through the data collection and the data analysis processes, and even continue during the final writing up!

The Review Process

There are four key elements in the process of conducting a literature review:
1. identifying the focus of the review – this will be the general topic or subject area within which the problem or issue you are investigating is set;
2. selecting the appropriate sources of information – texts and other references;
3. critically reviewing and evaluating the literature;
4. writing up the review – the final element of bringing together the material you have gathered and producing a coherent rationale for your research.

The Focus of the Review

The literature review should not be a general, leisurely browse through a number of human resource management texts. It is, rather a focused study designed to extract information of direct relevance to your project. You do not have the time to read everything about the subject area, so you need to concentrate on those texts which provide the information you need – and to know what information you need, you have to be clear in your initial thoughts about the subject. Get custom written paper at my private

As your reading of the literature continues, you should be thinking more and more about the precise definition of the problem or issue. This will make your selection of texts, and your study of them, increasingly focused on the final topic for investigation.

Selecting the Sources

Where, then, are you going to get your information? And where do you start? The best place to start is from what you already know. Go back over books with which you are familiar and key general textbooks to consolidate your existing knowledge. These are often useful in providing definitions of terms and setting out the parameters of the subject area.

However, you will need to go deeper into the subject area than is likely to be the case with the subject reviews and overviews in general management texts. You need to identify more specific information. Some of this will be in other books, but you will also need to look at journals and magazines to access more in-depth academic studies and articles about recent research and current thinking. (Journal articles, in particular, provide insight into the approach to academic work similar to – although usually at a higher level than – your dissertation and also into research methodologies, which you may find useful for your own work.) Get custom written paper at my private

There are various ways of identifying the sources you need:
1. identifying journals and magazines appropriate to your area of study and checking the indexes for suitable articles;
2. following up references and bibliographies in books and articles;
3. browsing the library catalogues, or even the shelves;
4. referring to specialist reading lists from other parts of your course; and
5. the Internet.
6. If you get stuck, or reach a dead-end, you can always ask your supervisor for assistance.

Using the Internet

There is an increasing amount of material available on-line through the Internet, and the Web in particular is becoming a very useful tool in research.
1. The Internet can be used to access material directly on screen, or to identify sources to follow up by acquiring the actual publications from elsewhere. Many journals and magazines are now published on the Internet – if not in full, then at least the contents and summaries of articles. You will also find many research articles published directly by their authors. Get custom written paper at my private

2. Use the “search” facility to identify potentially useful material. Type in key words and follow up the references given.

3. Follow links from one site to another (“surfing”) to locate material which is useful.
a. Bookmark important or interesting sites so that you can find them again quickly.
b. Don’t forget to reference information derived from the Internet – use the full site address or publication details given.

Critically Reviewing and Evaluating the Literature

It is important to remember that the review needs to comprise a critical evaluation of the subject area through the books and articles. You need to appraise the arguments and views of the authors, compare them with others and assess their strengths and weaknesses. Structuring your own understanding in this way leads you to develop your own views and ideas – perhaps agreeing with one approach or other, or seeing ways in which the work of others may be extended, or perhaps even pioneering new territory! This should also help you structure your definition of the issue or problem you are to investigate for the dissertation.Get custom written paper at my private

It is particularly useful to seek out articles that put contrary viewpoints, so that you can compare different approaches. You should also try to establish any patterns or trends in thinking about the subject area. When reading a particular reference, ask yourself the following questions about the work:
1. What is the basis of the author’s views – does it draw on original research or is it developing the work of others (and if so, who)?
2. What is the background and experience of the author – practising accountant, manager, journalist, academic, etc. – from which their ideas derive?
3. If the work is research-based, what enquiry methods are being used and how was the data collected?
4. How recent is the reference – when was it published, when was the research carried out, and is it still relevant?

Finally, here, remember to keep accurate records of all your sources. Referencing is particularly important in academic work and all your sources need to be acknowledged.

Writing up the Review

The review should not be a series of disconnected abstracts or summaries of the sources you have studied in your reading. It should, rather, provide a coherent analysis of the subject area, which draws on and is supported by the literature. You need, then, to establish a view of the subject – your argument – within which you can locate the issue or problem of the dissertation. One approach may be to identify themes within the literature, and then to compare the way in which different authors approach the same theme. You could structure your review by setting out the different views about each theme, leading on to a comparative analysis and conclusions, and finally relating it to the topic of your dissertation. Points to consider in finalising the review include: Get custom written paper at my private

1. ensure that it begins with a clear introductory statement of the purpose and aims of the review, and ends with a summary and/or conclusions which are supported by the review itself;
2. ensure that there is depth to the critical analysis of the literature and the themes and arguments you have identified;
3. ensure that you support your arguments by appropriate reference to the literature;
4. strike a balance between too short a review which lacks depth and breadth, and too long a review which is unwieldy and difficult to structure effectively – you cannot read everything, so think about when to stop;
5. don’t make it too complex – simplify discussion, structure the review clearly and perhaps include interim summaries to draw themes together;
6. but on the other hand do not make it too simple – it should not be purely descriptive, but seek to have challenging discussion, comparison and analysis.

Reading Effectively

There is, potentially, a great deal of material to get through in undertaking the reading for the literature review. Some of it may be quite difficult – coming to grips with complex concepts and detailed research reports.

It is important, therefore, that you approach reading in a way, which makes it most effective from day one. This is a skill, which the more you practise, the better and faster you can become.

The heart of the skill is, knowing how to approach reading a particular source. You do not need to read everything. You do, though, need to study in some depth material that is relevant to your particular needs. There are a number of elements to this.
1. Be clear about the focus of the review.

2. Get an overview of the publication, for example by reading the contents page, the introduction and the conclusion.

3. Having identified the relevance of a publication and which parts you need to study, “skim-read” them. This is rapid reading, aiming to get a general impression of the material before starting to study it in depth. It is actually easier to follow arguments if we keep going reasonably quickly through the material, than to slow down and try to understand each separate sentence or phrase in detail. In practice, it is better to read something through twice, rather than to read it once at half the speed.Get custom written paper at my private

4. In-depth reading may be either receptive or reflective. In receptive mode, you are reading quickly and in a relaxed way – aiming to get a good feel for the subject and listening to what the author has to say. In reflective mode, you are working more slowly – analysing, comparing and evaluating the content. Give yourself time to do this properly. You need to reflect and consider the material after your initial reading, and probably then to re-read it with specific questions in mind.

5. Remember your overall focus when reading in this way. It is useful to think of questions about the material – how will it assist your understanding, how does it relate to other material, what approach is adopted to particular themes, etc. In particular, question the material to help you frame your research issue or problem, so that you are constantly tightening its definition and, thus, focusing on the key aspects for your research.

6. Make notes – this is the key to effective understanding as well as providing the basis for recall at a later stage. We shall consider note taking in more detail below.

7. Review the material once more when you have finished the in-depth reading and note taking. Scan the content to ensure that you have an accurate overall understanding of what the author is putting across.

Note Taking

Note taking is a key skill and is a very important part of reading. It has two purposes:
1. To aid understanding: by picking out the key points, summarising and restating the material in your own words, you are reflecting and conceptualising what you read and structuring your understanding in a way which is meaningful to you; and Get custom written paper at my private

2. To aid retrieval: providing a means of referring to the information without recourse to the original source material.

Approaches to Note Taking

Whichever approach you adopt, there are a number of key elements to note taking. You need to:
1. pick out key points – the author’s main ideas and important details;
2. structure your notes to reflect the arguments and themes of the material;
3. use your own words;
4. jot down occasional key quotes for potential use at a later stage;
5. ensure that the notes are properly referenced – see the later section on referencing.

Try, also, to make your notes clear and legible, and leave space for adding additional material – either from further reading or from your own reflection. Linear notes is the approach you are probably most familiar with. It comprises listing points, often numbered, and structuring them under headings to show their interrelationships.

An alternative approach is the use of mind maps (see figure 1 for an example), developed by Tony Buzan ([1993] The Mind Map Book: Radiant Thinking. BBC Books). This process is based on the idea that the mind does not work in a linear way, but often branches off at a tangent, developing new trains of thought and making different connections between things. The mind map reflects this approach.

The starting point is the central theme or problem with which you are concerned in your reading. This is entered at the centre of the map. Main ideas are then written as branches from the central subject, with other ideas branching out from those, just as twigs grow on the branches of trees. It is important to condense the notes to just key words or very short phrases – not sentences. (You can, though, use the edge of the map to record quotes and longer items.)

Mind maps are a particularly effective method of organising your learning and showing relationships in a graphical manner. Using them to take notes requires some practice, but can be very rewarding. You should also find them helpful in planning and structuring the writing up of the literature review.

Organising your Information

It is one thing to take effective notes, but you also need to organise this mass of information you have gathered from your reading so that it helps you to:
1. identify patterns and relationships between the various sources; and
2. retrieve the information you need easily – and for this, you need to index it.

Grouping your Notes

To do this you need to reflect on the themes and arguments emerging from your critical reading. This can provide the basis of organisation and start to pull together what may seem at first a disparate set of notes, into a coherent whole. Once you have established a framework for grouping your information, develop some overviews, which summarise the key themes and approaches of different authors. This can help when you come to writing up the review.


Separate from your notes themselves, you should also keep an index of the sources you have consulted. Each entry should contain the following information:
1. full reference details of the source (author, date, title, publisher);
2. a very brief summary of the key points/ideas/themes, etc.;
3. perhaps, two or three key quotes (with page numbers);
4. a note on its potential value in relation to different themes/ ideas, etc.

It is useful to think about how to organise your index right at the beginning, even though your original framework is likely to change as your review continues and your understanding of the subject area develops. For example, it is perhaps best to have a master index, and then sub-indexes organised around the main themes and ideas you have identified. Entries will need to be cross-referenced to ensure that you bring out the appropriate connections.

There are two main approaches to indexing:
1. Using a card system: in which case you will need to be very concise in the information you record; or

2. Using a computer database: in which case there is the possibility of linking the index to separate word processing files containing the notes themselves (and this can help in actually writing the material up).


In all academic work you need to acknowledge the sources on which you have drawn. This not only allows readers to locate and follow up the original source for themselves (as you may do in identifying sources for your review), but lends support and weight to your arguments and the discussion of the topic. You are demonstrating familiarity with the literature and an ability to use it to elucidate the field of study and support your particular approach.

It is essential then that you provide appropriate references both within the text and, in the form of a Reference List, at the end.

However, before we go on to examine exactly how you should do this, there is an important point to be made about the line between drawing on the work of others and plagiarism.


What is plagiarism?
1. Plagiarism means the use of the ideas or others without acknowledging them as such. It is an academic tradition that the ideas or words of another are not used without acknowledgement. You must adhere to this tradition; it is totally unacceptable to plagiarise. The main form of plagiarism is copying out sections of other people’s work and not acknowledging the source – i.e. claiming ownership of it for yourself. You should never do this. Always cite the reference for any material quoted, and do not rely on direct quotations as a substitute for your own thinking and expression. It is essential, then, that you provide appropriate references both within the text and, in the form of a bibliography, at the end.

2. Be careful, too, of simply re-hashing the words of others to make it appear that they are original. In many circumstances, you will be putting the thoughts and ideas of others into your own words, but this should be through a process of synthesising and summarising, rather than simply re- ordering the original wording!



5. You can of course make use of the ideas of others. However, this must be acknowledged according to the following conventions:
a. Each use of the ideas or words of another must be individually acknowledged. In addition, each work consulted must be listed in the reference section. The mere presence of a work in the reference section does not override the need for acknowledging each individual use of that work in a reference in the text and, though necessary, is by itself insufficient.

b. Any use of exact words of another must be acknowledged by enclosing them in quotation marks and by stating their source. For example:
“Confusing the industry with the market is one of the most frequently repeated mistakes in corporate strategy” (Kay 1996: 202)

c. If any part of a passage from a publication is used this should be indicated by replacing the omitted words with a short series of dots. For example:
“Economics is the natural integrative discipline for much of management science. But its past relative neglect of the firm…has severely limited the role it has to play” (Kay 1996:8)

d. If you do not have access to the original source of a quotation but have found it quoted in the work of somebody else you should give the original source (which the author you have found should have quoted) and the reference where you found it. For example:
Scherer (1970) quoted by Kay (1996:5)

e. If you are not using the exact words of another but are making use of their ideas this should be acknowledged. For example:
As Kay (1996:12) has argued macroeconomic forecasts are at best reliable for short periods ahead

6. Web sites on plagiarism and how to avoid plagiarism:

References in the Text

Written and electronic material used in your dissertation/management report should be referenced using the Harvard system of referencing detailed below. References cited in the text should give the author’s name and the date in parentheses, e.g. Lessard (1990) suggests that the management of foreign exchange risk is a rational exercise if the firm is trying to stabilise cash flows in order to reduce the probability that they fall below a critical level.

Where there are two co-authors both names should be given, e.g. Smith and Stulz (1985) show that firms with greater variation in cash flows or accounting earnings resulting from exposure to financial price risks have greater potential benefits of hedging. For example, the probability of encountering financial distress is directly related to the firm’s cash flow volatility.

Where there are more than two authors, the name of the first should be given, followed by an et al., e.g. Géczy et al. (1997) predict a positive relation between hedging and convertible debt on the assumption that convertible debt reflects additional gearing, which constrains a firm’s access to external financing.

If an author has produced more than one work in a given year, this should be identified as Becker (1970a), Becker (1970b) etc.

The reference section of the thesis should list all the text references in alphabetical order of the authors’ surnames. The details given enable the sources to be traced.
1. When referring to a book:
a. Kay, J. (1996) The Business of Economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
b. Golding, G. and Middleton, S. (1982) Images of Welfare: Press and Public Attitudes to Poverty. Blackwell: Oxford.

2. When referring to an article/chapter in a book:
a. Rosati, D.K. (1992) Problems of post-CMEA Trade and Payments, in Fleming, J. and Rollo, J.M.C (Eds.) Trade, Payments and Adjustments in Central and Eastern Europe. London: RIIA and EBRD.

3. When referring to a journal article
a. Allayannis, G., and Ofek, E. (2001) ‘Exchange-Rate Exposure, Hedging and the Use of Foreign Currency Derivatives’. Journal of International Money and Finance. Vol. 20, pp. 273-296.
b. Barclay, M., and Smith, C.W. Jr., (1995), ‘The Maturity Structure of Corporate Debt’. Journal of Finance. Vol. 50(2) pp. 609-631.
c. Géczy, C., Minton, B.A., and Schrand, C. (1997), ‘Why Firms Use Currency Derivatives’. Journal of Finance. Vol. 52(4), pp. 1323-1354.
d. Zucker, G.S. and Weiner, B. (1993), ‘Conservatism and Perceptions of Poverty – An Attributional Analysis’. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Vol. 23(12), pp. 925-943.

4. When referring to government and other publications:
a. Department of Employment (1973) Characteristics of the Unemployed. Department of Employment Gazette, June.
b. Economist (1992a) Economics Focus: Japan’s Troublesome Imports. 11 January.
c. Economist (1992b) Trade Watch: A Good tanning. 22 February.

5. When referring to an Internet source:
a. George Edwards Library, The preparation and presentation of theses and dissertations [online], Guildford: University of Surrey, 1999. Available from: [Accessed 1 September 2000]. Get custom written paper at my private


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