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Literature Review

Aims and objectives of a review A literature review, however, serves other purposes, namely to: Establish the context of the problem or topic by reference to previous work. Understand the structure of the problem Relate theories and ideas to the problem Identify the relevant variables and relations Show the reader what has been done previously Show which theories have been applied to the problems Show which research designs and methods have been chosen Rationalize the significance of the problem and the study presented Synthesise and gain a new perspective on the problem Show what needs to be done in light of the existing knowledge

Establishing the context of the problem by reference to previous work Progress in science is made by the continuous accumulation of knowledge. Hence, you need to embed in your study the context of the problem, be reference to previous work of others. We will use the metaphor of knowledge as a cathedral to illustrate the process. Each study and article is just another brick added to the construction of the cathedral of knowledge. Some studies just reconfirm previous knowledge, often in slightly different settings. For example, the first empirical tests of transaction cost economics were carried out in the automotive industry. Later on, other scholars applied transaction cost arguments to other industries for example, relations in the utility sector and in the rail freight sector. These studies in other industries added a new brick to the chapel of transaction cost economics and demonstrated the broader applicability of

the theory. Sometimes new studies lay the foundations for a new chapel and if these prove to be solid enough to build a chapel upon then the contributions involved are likely to attract the highest academic merit, perhaps in the form of a Nobel Prize. Ronald Coases article on the boundaries of a firm is one of the foundations of transaction cost economics and appeared 1937 in Economica. It earned Coase the Nobel Prize in 1990, because it inspired many other scholars, who contributed to the building of the chapel of transaction cost economics. For example, Williamson provided essential bricks for the further development of the theory, and studies by Monteverde and Teece, Palay and Joskow provided bricks of empirical testing. So, using the metaphor of knowledge as a cathedral, the first function of a literature review is to embed the current study in the existing structure of knowledge. It allows the reader to understand much better which particular issue the study addresses, where it contributes to the knowledge and how it relates to the other bricks. In a complex world, isolated knowledge has no value; the value of your contribution increases if you relate it to the existing knowledge. The single brick is of limited beauty, but being part of the cathedral it contributes significantly to its overall beauty. Understanding the structure of the problem The literature review allows you to show the reader your understanding of the problem and its structure. Taking once again the metaphor of the cathedral, you can show the reader in which chapels you are going to work and which specific aspects you will investigate. Assume that you wish to investigate the question Why do people become self-employed? Plausible factors to explain the choice of self-employment include: general economic conditions, higher income than in paid labour, social background or personality traits. Each of these factors relates to a different chapel, i.e. theory or perspective. The first refers to macroeconomics, the second to microeconomic consideration of utility maximizing, the third to sociology and the fourth to psychology. Clearly, a single study cannot cover every perspective in the same depth and a researcher needs to choose between the possible perspectives. In a study, the literature review is a good place to argue why you selected a specific perspective, and what relationships and aspects you want to investigate within the chosen perspective. Showing the reader what has been done previously


It offers a brief summary of the previous work that is clearly related to the problem of your study. This is an important function of the review, because you cannot assume that every reader is as knowledgeable about the field as you are. In such a summary and discussion of the previous literature you show which theoretical concepts others have applied to the problems, what research designs and methods they have chosen to investigate the problem, and the results that others have found. Hence, you use the literature review to present the reader with a rich description of the current state of the chapel, by pointing out the beautiful parts, but also addressing its current shortcomings. Even for a well-informed reader, your review is an important piece of information. The literature review allows the well-informed reader, an expert in the field, to assess at a glance how knowledgeable the writer is. Rationalising the significance of the problem and the study presented. A literature review is however, more than a summary of previous work. The summary of the status quo merely lays the foundations for a discussion of what needs to be done in the light of existing knowledge. General problems of literature review Pulling together all the ideas that stem from different disciplines is often difficult, as authors can be rooted in certain styles of thinking and writing that are specific to certain disciplines. For example, psychological studies often place a strong emphasis on measurement issues, and are rather rigid when it comes to discussions of validity and reliability; economists are less concerned with measurement issues but rigid in terms of model building and the usage of statistical methods, management scholars place a strong emphasis on the applicability of theories to real-world management problems, but are less bothered about theory development and rigorous methodology. There is no perfect review. Each is written from a particular perspective, often rooted in a certain discipline or school of thought. Reviews are usually written with a particular reader in mind and consequently the literature review of an economic study on entrepreneurs will differ a great deal from that of a sociological study on the same topic. Assessment of a good literature review

Basic ingredients

Literature mentioned and discussed relates to the problem statement of the study. Mentions (different) theoretical ideas contributing to the further exploration or explanation of the studys problem statement. Summarises previous studies addressing and investigating the current studys


problem statement. Discusses the theoretical ideas mentioned against the background of the results of previous studies. Analyses and compares previous studies in the light of their research design and methodology. Demonstrates how the current study fits in with previous studies, and shows its specific new contributions.

Process and Organisation Writing a literature review is an iterative process of three tasks: 1. Searching information (literature) 2. Assessing the information obtained, and 3. Synthesizing the assessment of information Literature search and sources LITERATURE SEARCH. It is likely that the preparation of a literature review will start with a literature search. A literature search calls for the use of a librarys online catalogue, and one or more bibliographic databases or indexes. For some topics, it may be useful to consult a handbook or specialist encyclopedia first to establish a list of key terms, people or events that have influenced the topic under investigation, and also to determine the major publications and the foremost authors in the field. Other reference materials will be incorporated into the search strategy as needed. In general, this literature search has five steps: Define your management dilemma or management question


Consult encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks and textbooks to identify key terms, people or events relevant to your management dilemma or management question.

Apply these key terms, people or events in searching indexes, bibliographies and the web to identify specific secondary sources.

Locate and review specific secondary sources for relevance. Evaluate the value of each source and its content.

In economic and business studies, the main problem is not finding literature that is related to a certain topic, but filtering the really relevant and good literature, and distinguishing it from irrelevant literature and dubious sources. The internet has without doubt facilitated access to a wide range of different information, and students are now less dependent on the quality and thematic focus of their local universities libraries. Using academic databases, it has become much easier to find a wide range of literature related to a certain topic. Furthermore, many libraries now subscribe to services that permit electronic access to the full text of many academic journals. The amount of information available has, however, become so vast that it is impossible to read all the information to assess its quality and relevance to ones own research. Hence, researcher needs some guidelines to help them decide on the relevance of available information resources. The application of such guidelines and filters has the drawback that some relevant information might not be discovered and may slip through the net. That is why an iterative search refining process is useful in ensuring search efficiency, and helps to minimize the chances of relevant information being missed. Before one can start the research process, one needs at least an idea of the problem involved or, better, a problem statement to give the search some direction. In this phase the search process has a broad orientation and one tries to find out what others have written on this and related topics. The primary aim is to build up a pool of potential information. One can usually distinguish two departure points for creating such a pool and you should use both. The first is your preknowledge. Such pre-knowledge can be based on earlier similar research you have done or simply on a course with a related topic that you have followed. You can add the literature you used in previous related research or during a related course to your pool of potential information.


Literature search applied In the third stage of the process you take a first look at the sources. The main objective of this stage is to make a rough assessment of all the sources in terms of their usefulness for your study. If the number of sources is still rather high, you might just scan the titles to decide whether the book or article could be relevant for your own study. If the number of information sources is moderate, or once you have scanned the titles, you can use the abstracts of the articles and books to assess whether they are related to your study. At the end of this stage, you will have compiled a list of articles and books that are clearly related to some aspect of your own research; then you must obtain the full text of these sources. In stage four, you read and begin to analyse your sources. To start with, it is often sufficient to skim through the text. The aim of this is to decide whether the source makes an important contribution in terms of theoretical background, research design and methods used, and qualitative or quantitative findings. Placing each article in one or more of these categories also allows you to check for which part of your study you still might lack literature. Although there is no golden rule as to how many articles you need overall and in each category for a comprehensive review, such a structured overview can review substantial imbalances in your literature coverage. You should also check the reference section of each source to see whether it contains titles that sound promising but are not yet on your list. Such a process tends to lead to a snowball effect: references in one source point you to a new source, and that sources references in turn point you to another source and so on. This is a very useful way to discover the origins of a field and to broaden your literature search across more disciplines. The main disadvantage of this system is that it is past-oriented that is, each source will only point you to articles and books that have been published before the source itself was published. Hence, it is useful to start such a snowball search with recent articles or books. Another way to make sure your search is up to date is to identify through the snowball system prominent authors and journals. You can then search for articles that these authors have published recently and also check the latest volumes of the journals that frequently publish articles in the field in which you are interested. Literature Sources

Literature can be found in both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are full-text publications of theoretical and empirical studies, and represent the original work. Secondary sources are complications of information, either in printed or digital form.

The internet as literature source The World Wide Web is such a vast information, business and entertainment resource that it would be difficult, if not foolish, to overlook. Millions of pages of data are publicly available, and the size of the web doubles every few months. But searching and retrieving reliable information on the web is a great deal more problematic than searching a bibliographic database. There are no standard database fields, no carefully defined subject hierarchies, no crossreferences, no synonyms, no selection criteria and in general no rules. There are dozens of search engines and they all work differently, but how they work is not always easy to determine. Nonetheless, the convenience of the web and the extraordinary amount of information to be found on it are compelling reasons for using it as an information source. How to read Once you have chosen to read an article or book for review, never start by attempting to read every sentence, but try to get the gist of the research. The following steps offer a useful strategy for quickly grasping the main issues in a piece of literature. 1. Skim through the book to discover its structure, topic, style, general reasoning, data and references. a. Read the title. b. Read the chapter titles or section headings. c. Check whether empirical evidence is presented and if so what kind of evidence


d. Check the references to see whether you already know some of the literature or authors. 2. Survey each chapter of the book/ each section of the article.
a. Read the sub-headings and try to determine the main structure of the book/ article.

b. Take a closer look at the figures and tables provided, as they often summarise the text. 3. Skim over and read the Preface and Introduction to identify the main ideas. 4. Read the parts and chapters that are important to your own area of interest.

Synthesizing the literature A literature review is a piece of academic writing and it must be logically structured and clear. First, any review of the literature requires you to deliver an appropriate summary of prior work. A review however, is more than a well-structured summary of the literature; a good review also contains considerable insight from the writer, as it is not only a prcis but a well-reasoned piece of criticism too. CRITICISM. Whenever you write an academic literature review or participate in a scientific discussion, it is worth considering the main points of effective criticism. You should base your criticism on an assessment of weaknesses and strengths. You should criticize theories, arguments, ideas and the methodology, but not the authors or their motives.

You should reflect on your own critique, providing reasons for the choices you have made, and recognizing and pointing out any weaknesses in your criticism.

You should treat the work of others with due respect, i.e. give a fair account of the views and argument of others when summarizing.


Further, you must always provide reasons for your disagreement with a certain view or argument; just stating that you disagree is wrong and insufficient. Finally you should focus on the major parts of an argument. The writing process Your plan should contain at least the following elements: 1. The aims and objective of the review. 2. The audience for the review. 3. A brief summary of your main points. 4. A draft outline. 5. A list of the main materials you have selected. Right from the start it should be clear to you why you are writing the review. Do you just want to give a summary of the existing literature on a specific topic? Do you want critically assess the current literature on a topic and use the conclusions of your review as point of departure for motivating your own research? The audience for your review is a crucial consideration when deciding on many aspects during the review process. The more knowledgeable your audience, the less time you need to spend planning the review. If you are writing an article for a scientific journal, where you can expect that most of the readers will know the literatures as well as you do, you do not need to give a short summary of each piece of literature you include. If you are reviewing the literature for a scientific audience that does not know the specific literature involved, then you should give your readers more information on the content of the literature under review. Finally, if you are writing a review for an educational audience, which is not yet acquainted at all with the field you need to provide much more information on each piece of literature included. To sum up, the better informed your audience, the more your review can be your own reasoned interpretation of the current state of affairs in the field and the less need there is to present an overview of existing studies.


Reviewing the literature usually means more than providing a brief summary of it. Every literature review should also try to make a point with regard to what the author thinks about the field. Some possible themes for points to make are as follows. What are the remaining unsolved puzzles in the field? On which aspects do most authors agree, and on which aspects do you find much disagreement? Given the current state of affairs; what are promising and fruitful future research directions? What are the current lacunae in the field?

Before you come to write down your review, you need to clarify which points you want to make, how you will use the review to support your points, and how you can structure the review to make your points.