Writing a Literature Review in Psychology a Literature Review in Psychology

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  • UniversityofWashingtonPsychologyWritingCenterhttp://www.psych.uw.edu/psych.php?p=335|psywc@uw.edu

    Copyright2016,UniversityofWashington litrev.pdf

    WritingaLiteratureReviewinPsychology

    Whatisaliteraturereview?Howisaliteraturereviewdifferentfromaresearcharticle?Thetwopurposes:describe/compareandevaluateGettingstarted

    Selectatopicandgatherarticles Chooseacurrent,well-studied,specifictopic SearchtheresearchliteratureReadthearticlesWritetheliteraturereview

    StructureHowtoproceed:describe,compare,evaluateTips

    Conclusion

    WHATISALITERATUREREVIEW?

    Literaturereviewssurveyresearchonaparticularareaortopicinpsychology.Theirmainpurposeistoknittogethertheoriesandresultsfrommultiplestudiestogiveanoverviewofafieldofresearch.

    HowisaLiteratureReviewDifferentfromaResearchArticle?

    Researcharticles: areempiricalarticlesthatdescribeoneorseveralrelatedstudiesonaspecific,quantitative,testableresearch

    question aretypicallyorganizedintofourtextsections:Introduction,Methods,Results,Discussion

    TheIntroductionofaresearcharticleincludesacondensedliteraturereview.Itspurposeistodescribewhatisknownabouttheareaofstudy,withthegoalofgivingthecontextandrationaleforthestudyitself.

    Publishedliteraturereviewsarecalledreviewarticles.Reviewarticlesemphasizeinterpretation.Bysurveyingthekeystudiesdoneinacertainresearcharea,areviewarticleinterpretshoweachlineofresearchsupportsorfailstosupportatheory.Unlikearesearcharticle,whichisquitespecific,areviewarticletellsamoregeneralstoryofanareaofresearchbydescribing,comparing,andevaluatingthekeytheoriesandmainevidenceinthatarea.

    TheTwoPurposesofaLiteratureReview

    Yourreviewhastwopurposes:(1)todescribeandcomparestudiesinaspecificareaofresearchand(2)toevaluatethosestudies.Bothpurposesarevital:athoroughsummaryandcomparisonofthecurrentresearchisnecessarybeforeyoucanbuildastrongevaluativeargumentaboutthetheoriestested.

    GettingStarted(1) Selectaresearchtopicandidentifyrelevantarticles.(2) Readthearticlesuntilyouunderstandwhataboutthemisrelevanttoyourreview.(3) Digestthearticles:Understandthemainpointswellenoughtotalkaboutthem.(4) Writethereview,keepinginmindyourtwopurposes:todescribeandcompare,andtoevaluate.

    SELECTATOPICANDCOLLECTARTICLES

    ChooseaCurrent,Well-Studied,SpecificTopic

    Pickatopicthatinterestsyou.Ifyou'reinterestedinasubject,you'relikelytoalreadyknowsomethingaboutit.Yourinterestwillhelpyoutochoosemeaningfularticles,makingyourpapermorefunbothtowriteandtoread.

    Thetopicshouldbebothcurrentandwellstudied.Yourgoalistodescribeandevaluaterecentfindingsinaspecificareaofresearch,sopickatopicthatyoufindincurrentresearchjournals.RecentissuesofAPAjournalscanprovide

  • UniversityofWashington|PsychologyWritingCenterhttp://www.psych.uw.edu/psych.php?p=335|psywc@uw.edu

    Copyright2017,UniversityofWashington litrev.pdf

    2

    inspiration.Findanareathatiswelldefinedandwellstudied,meaningthatseveralresearchgroupsarestudyingthetopicandhaveapproacheditfromdifferentperspectives.Ifallthearticlesyoufindarefromthesameresearchgroup(i.e.,thesameauthors),broadenyourtopicorusemoregeneralsearchterms.

    Youmayneedtonarrowyourtopic.Thesubjectofashortliteraturereviewmustbespecificenough,yethavesufficientliteratureonthesubject,foryoutocoveritindepth.Abroadtopicwillyieldthousandsofarticles,whichisimpossibletosurveymeaningfully.Ifyouaredrowninginarticles,oreacharticleyoufindseemstobeaboutacompletelydifferentaspectofthesubject,narrowyourtopic.Chooseonearticlethatintereststoyouandfocusonthespecificquestioninvestigated.Forexample,asearchforteenagealcoholusewillfloodyouwitharticles,butsearchingforteenagealcoholuseandcriminalbehaviorwillyieldbothfewerandmorefocusedarticles.

    Youmayneedtobroadenyourtopic.Youneedenougharticlesonyourtopicforathoroughreviewoftheresearch.Ifyoureunabletofindmuchliteratureonyourtopic,orifyoufindarticlesyouwantthatarenoteasytofindonline,broadenyourtopic.Whatsamoregeneralwaytoaskyourquestionofinterest?Forexample,ifyourehavingahardtimefindingarticlesondiscriminationagainstAsian-AmericanwomeninSTEMfields,broadenyourtopic(e.g.,academicdiscriminationagainstAsian-AmericanwomenordiscriminationagainstwomeninSTEM.)

    Considerseveraltopics,andkeepanopenmind.Don'tfallinlovewithatopicbeforeyoufindhowmuchresearchhasbeendoneinthatarea.Byexploringdifferenttopics,youmaydiscoversomethingthatisnewlyexcitingtoyou!

    SearchtheResearchLiterature

    Doapreliminarysearch.Useonlinedatabases(e.g.,PsycInfo,SocialSciencesCitationIndex(SSCI),Medline)tosearchtheresearchliterature.Ifyoudontknowhowtosearchonlinedatabases,askyourinstructororreferencelibrarian.Referencelibrariansareinvaluable!

    Searchforhelpfularticles.Findoneormorepivotalarticlesthatcanbeafoundationforyourpaper.Apivotalarticlemaybeexceptionallywellwritten,containparticularlyvaluablecitations,orclarifyrelationshipsbetweendifferentbutrelatedlinesofresearch.Twosourcesofsucharticlesinpsychologyare:

    PsychologicalBulletin CurrentDirectionsinPsychologicalScience(publishedbytheAmericanPsychologicalSociety)hasgeneral,

    shortarticleswrittenbyscientistswhohavepublishedalotintheirresearcharea.

    Olderreviewarticles(5-10yearsold)mayhelpyoutounderstandthehistoryofaresearchareaandtofindmorecurrentresearchinthatarea.Tofollowuponanolderreviewarticle:

    SearchPsycInfoforwhetherauthorscitedinanearlierarticlehavecontinuedtodoresearchinthearea SearchSSCIforrecentstudiesthathavecitedtheauthorsofanearlierreview

    Howmanyarticles?Althoughpublishedreviewarticlesmaycitemorethan100articles,literaturereviewsforcoursesareoftenshorterbecausetheypresentonlyhighlightsofaresearchareaandarenotexhaustive.Ashortliteraturereviewmaysurvey7-12researcharticlesandbeabout10-15pageslong.Forcoursepaperguidelines,askyourinstructor.

    Chooserepresentativearticles,notjustthefirstonesyoufind.Thisconsiderationismoreimportantthanthelengthofyourreview.

    Choosereadablearticles.Someresearchareasarehardertounderstandthanothers.Scanarticlesinthetopicareasyouareconsideringtodecideonthereadabilityoftheresearchinthoseareas.

    READTHEARTICLES

    Towriteaneffectivereview,youllneedasolidgraspoftherelevantresearch.Beginbyreadingthearticleyoufindeasiest.Read,re-read,andmentallydigestituntilyouhaveaconversationalunderstandingofthepaper.Youdontknowwhatyouknowuntilyoucantalkaboutit.Andifyoucanttalkaboutit,youwontbeabletowriteaboutit.

  • UniversityofWashington|PsychologyWritingCenterhttp://www.psych.uw.edu/psych.php?p=335|psywc@uw.edu

    Copyright2017,UniversityofWashington litrev.pdf

    3

    Readselectively.Don'tstartbyreadingthearticlesfrombeginningtoend.First,readjusttheAbstracttogetanoverviewofthestudy.

    ScanthearticletoidentifytheanswerstotheseWhy-What-What-Whatquestions:(1) Whydidtheydothestudy?Whydoesitmatter?(2) Whatdidtheydo?(3) Whatdidtheyfind?(4) Whatdoesitmean?

    Thepreviousfourquestionscorrespondtothesepartsofaresearcharticle:(1) Introduction:theresearchquestionandhypotheses(2) Methods(3) Results(4) Discussion

    Createasummarysheetofeacharticleskeypoints.Thiswillhelpyoutointegrateeacharticleintoyourpaper.

    Readfordepth.Afteryouunderstandanarticlesmainpoints,readeachsectionindetailfortogainthenecessaryin-depthunderstandingtocomparetheworkofdifferentresearchers.

    WRITETHELITERATUREREVIEW

    MainGoal

    Yourgoalistoevaluateabodyofliterature;i.e.,toidentifyrelations,contradictions,gaps,andinconsistenciesandsuggestnextstepstosolvetheresearchproblem(APAPublicationManual2010,p.10).Beginwritingwhenyouhavedecidedonyourstoryandhowtoorganizeyourresearchtosupportthatstory.

    Organization

    Organizetheliteraturereviewtohighlightthethemethatyouwanttoemphasizethestorythatyouwanttotell.Literaturereviewstendtobeorganizedsomethinglikethis:

    Introduction:(1) Introducetheresearchtopic(whatitis,whydoesitmatter)(2) Framethestory:narrowtheresearchtopictothestudiesyouwilldiscuss(3) Brieflyoutlinehowyouhaveorganizedthereview

    Body:(1) Headings.Usethemeheadingstoorganizeyourargument(seebelow)(2) Describe,compare,andevaluatestudiesforeachsectionofyourargumentunderyourheadings

    (a) Describetherelevantpartsofeachstudyandexplainwhyitisrelevanttothesubtopicathand.(b) Comparethestudiesifneedbe,todiscusstheirimplications(i.e.,yourinterpretationofwhatthe

    studiesshowandwhetherthereareimportantdifferencesorsimilarities)(c) Evaluatetheimportanceofeachstudyorgroupofstudies,aswellastheimplicationsforthe

    subtopic,andwhereresearchshouldgofromhere(onthelevelofthesubtopic)

    Conclusion:Finalevaluation,summationandconclusion

    Headings.Useheadingstoidentifymajorsectionsthatshowtheorganizationofthepaper.(Headingsalsohelpyoutoidentifyorganizationalproblemswhileyourewriting.)Avoidthestandardheadingsofresearcharticles(Introduction,Method,Results,Discussion).Usespecific,conceptualheadings.Ifyouarereviewingwhetherfacialexpressionsareuniversallyunderstood,headingsmightincludeStudiesinWesternCulturesandStudiesinNon-WesternCultures.Organizeyourargumentintotopicsthatfitundereachheading(oneormoreperheading).

  • UniversityofWashington|PsychologyWritingCenterhttp://www.psych.uw.edu/psych.php?p=335|psywc@uw.edu

    Copyright2017,UniversityofWashington litrev.pdf

    4

    Describe.Foreachsectionorsubtopic,brieflydescribeeacharticleorlineofresearch.Avoidsuddenjumpsbetewenbroaderandnarrowerideas.Keepyourstoryinmindtohelpkeepyourthoughtsconnected.

    Compare.Foreachsectionortopic,comparerelatedstudies,ifthisisrelevanttoyoustory.Comparisonsmayinvolvetheresearchquestion,hypotheses,methods,dataanalysis,results,orconclusions.However,youdontwanttocompareeverything.Thatwouldntbeastory!Whichpartsarerelevant?Whatevidencesupportsyourarguments?Identifyingstrengthsandweaknessesofeachstudywillhelpyoumakemeaningfulcomparisons.

    Ifyou'rehavingtroublesynthesizinginformation,youprobablydon'tunderstandthearticleswell.Rereadsectionsyoudontunderstand.Discussthestudieswithsomeone:youdontknowwhatyouknowuntilyoucantalkaboutit.

    Evaluate.Descriptions/comparisonsalonearenotilluminating.Foreachsectionortopic,evaluatethestudiesyouhavereviewedbasedonyourcomparisons.Tellyourreaderwhatyouconclude,andwhy.Evaluatingresearchisthemostsubjectivepartofyourpaper.Evenso,alwayssupportyourclaimswithevidence.Evaluationrequiresmuchthoughtandtakesonsomerisk,butwithoutit,yourpaperisjustabookreport.

    Finalevaluationandsummation.Onabroaderscale,relatingtoyourmaintheme,tellyourreaderwhatyouconcludeandwhy.Reiterateyourmainclaimsandoutlinetheevidencethatsupportsthem.

    Conclusion.Howdoesyourevaluatiochangeoraddtocurrentknowledgeinthefieldfield?Whatfuturestudiesareimpliedbyyouranalysis?Howwouldsuchstudiesaddtocurrentknowledgeofthetopic?

    Tips

    Allowenoughtime.Dontunderestimatethetimerequiredtochoosetherightarticles.Selectyourtopicandcollectarticlesearly.Budgethalfofyourtimeforresearchandreading,andtheotherhalfforwriting.

    Don'tstartwritingtooearly.Youneedasolidunderstandingoftheresearchbeforeyoucanevaluateit,andyouneedtoevaluatetheresearchbeforeyoucanwriteaboutit.Thistakesmoretimethanmanynovicewritersrealize.

    Takebreaks.Leavetimetostepawayfromthepapersothatyou'llhaveafreshperspectivewhenyoureturn.

    Reviseandrevise.Expecttorevisemultipletimes.Askotherstoreadyourpaperbeforeyouwritethefinalversion.

    Usespecificlanguageandconcreteexamples.Avoidvaguereferencessuchas"this"(e.g.,not"thisshows",but"thisresultshows").Sentencesthatstartwith"Ifeel"signalunsupportedstatements;reviseordelete.Haveareasonforeverythingyouwrite.Makeeverywordmeansomething.

    Paraphrase,don'tquote.Directquotesareseldomusedinscientificwritingandshouldbeavoided;paraphraseinstead(APAPublicationManual,2010).

    Dontplagiarize.Plagiarismiseasytoavoidifyougivecreditwheredue.Wheneveryoucitesomeoneelse'sideasorusetheirlanguage,identifytheauthorandyearofpublication.Ifyourenotsurewhethertocite,cite.Usingoldreviewarticlesisnotplagiarismaslongasyoucitethosepapersanddon'tpresenttheirideasasyourown.

    CONCLUSION

    Thepurposeofaliteraturereviewistosurvey,describe,compare,andevaluateresearcharticlesonaparticulartopic.Chooseacurrenttopicthatisneithertoobroadnortoonarrow.Findthestorythatyouwanttotell.Spendalotoftimereadingandthinkingbeforeyouwrite.Thinkcriticallyaboutthemainhypotheses,findings,andargumentsinalineofresearch.Identifyareasofagreementamongdifferentarticlesaswellastheirdifferencesandareasforfuturestudy.Expecttoreviseyourreviewmanytimestorefineyourstory.Awell-writtenliteraturereviewgivesthereaderacomprehensiveunderstandingofthemainfindingsandremainingquestionsbroughtaboutbyresearchonthattopic.

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