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History-MA in American History and Government (MAHG): Conducting a Literature Review

This guide is intended to support students in the MAHG program.

What is a Literature Review?

There are two common types of papers: the literature review and the research or experimental paper, which includes a literature review.

 A literature review is a summary of what the literature says about your specific topic or question.  The purpose of this kind of paper is to demonstrate your familiarity with work in the field pertinent to the research you hope to conduct.   The literature review discusses

  • Specific theories related to the problem.
  • What is known about the problem from other studies.
  • What needs to be done to advance knowledge concerning the problem.

A literature review typically contains the following sections:

  • title page
  • Abstract (optional--ask your prof.)
  • introduction section
  • list of references

A research or experimental paper typically includes the following sections:

  • title page
  • abstract
  • introduction
  • literature review
  • method
  • results
  • discussion
  • references

 .

Getting Organized

When organizing your search strategy, consider using these components:

  • Specific concepts, theories, and variables related to the problem. This can be a list of keywords and synonyms that may be useful in devising a search strategy.
  • Your own opinions about the topic and concepts 
  • Different researchers' opinions about the topic (these may either support or contradict yours)
  • Conclusions drawn from the researchers' studies. (these may either support or contradict yours)

 

 

When writing the literature review, consider these methods of organization :

  • Chronological—from most recent to least recent; from least recent to most recent
  • Thematic—by topic, subject matter, theoretical approach, methodology
  • By author—by the same author or by groups of authors
  • By place—region, country, school

Finding Lit. Reviews

a) Use Existing Literature Reviews
Literature reviews may already exist on some aspect of your topic.  Some but not all databases allow you to limit your search to literature reviews. For example, the ERIC database has "Literature Reviews" as a descriptor. The database PsycINFO allows one to limit a performed search to Literature Review as a preferred Methodology.  Select this option after performing the initial search.


b) Look for Landmark Studies & Seminal Research
It is important to comment on classic works on your topic.  While seminal research is not always labled as such, typically you will be begin to recognize repeated names or projects that have been recognized as a foundation studies for later research.

You may find it useful to use such keyword terms as “seminal” or “landmark’ when searching databases.

 

Collecting the Literature

You will want to use the databases most relevant for your particular research question or statement. You will want to start with the 3 education databases (Education Research Complete, Education Full Text,& ERIC), but also consider any other disciplines that study the topic. 

Examples:

On the topic of Attention Deficit Disorder, a researcher would also want to search the psychology databases. 

On the topic of  motivating and training education paraprofessionals , one might want to check the business databases to learn about organizational behavior.

On the topic of gender and the education comuniity, try sociology databases.

 

In addition to using articles retrieved from databases, you may want to include books, dissertations and web sites from credible authorities.

Writing a Literature Review

When writing the literature reviews, one should should use words that express relationships between different items of information.

 

Sentence Connectors

Table 1: Academic English Connectors and Their Meaning  (Swales and Feak 1994)

Subordinators Sentence Connectors Phrase Linkers
Addition   Furthermore, ...
In addition, ...
Moreover, ...
In addition to..., ...
Adversative ..., although
Although ..., ...
Even though ____, ...
Despite the fact that..
However, ...
Nevertheless, ...
Despite ..., ...
In spite of ..., ...
Cause and Effect ...because...
Since..., ...
..., since ...
Therefore, ...
As a result, ...
Consequently, ...
..., hence...
Thus, ...
Because of...
Due to...
As a result of...
Clarification   In other words, ...
That is, ...
i.e., ...
 
Contrast While ..., ...
..., whereas ...
In contrast, ...
However, ...
On the other hand, ...
Conversely, ...
Unlike ... , ...
Illustration   For example, ...
For instance, ...
 
Intensification   On the contrary, ...
As a matter of fact, ...
In fact, ...