Writing a literature review (research project chapter two) could be difficult without background knowledge and planning. Before we dive into the subject of the day, let’s get a general overview of what a literature review is all about.
Literature can be best described as a summary of previously published works on a particular subject. Literature reviews are mainly entertained in chapter two of a research project, thesis or dissertation.
Literature reviews when presented as chapter two of a research project, thesis or dissertations are often lengthened, it could go as high as 30 -150 pages and above as the case may be. The volume of the entire literature review section is most often determined by the number of words / pages recommended by the institution’s research committee / thesis guidelines. This, therefore, tells us that there is no universal word count or page limit that can be generally followed.
That, notwithstanding, the literature review process is conducted following an already established framework. These frameworks include
- Conceptual review
- Theoretical review,
- Empirical review or review of empirical works of literature / studies, and lastly
- Conclusion or Summary of the literature reviewed.
Note that gap identified from the literature review could come as a major sub-heading in chapter two, especially when working on postgraduate thesis or dissertations, this is, however, not common and is dependent on the accepted thesis / dissertation structure, instruction, or guidelines in each school.
What is an Empirical Review?
Our concern in this article is, however, tied to helping you understand or become familiar with the nitty-gritty of empirical reviews. From a definition standpoint, an empirical review can be described as the review of many aspects of an empirical study that hold some levels of significance to the study being conducted. An empirical literature review process involves the evaluation of previous empirical studies to bring to rest a specific research issue.
When conducting an empirical review, the researcher searches for empirical studies in a similar field, to uncover gaps, convergence, and conflicts that can help to properly identify, describe, and repeat the process. In the empirical review section of the literature review, the author examines the current state of knowledge and theories on the subject, as well as the topic’s historical context.
In an ideal situation, an empirical review should provide information on the name of the author (s), the title of the paper, the number of objectives raised, and research questions asked, the study design, the population and sampling techniques, the data collection instrument as well as the data analysis procedures and techniques. The most significant findings of the research should also be highlighted as well as recommendations made.
At times providing all this information in a highly coherent manner is enough, however, some schools or supervisors may require you to critique the reviewed empirical studies further, especially by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodological apparatus, tools, and techniques adopted by the author (s) of the reviewed empirical studies.
Steps to Writing an Empirical Review
Just like in every research work, deciding on a befitting research topic is always among the first things to do. When the empirical review is accommodated in chapter two (literature review) section of a thesis / dissertation, deciding on a topic may not become that necessary, as the topic could have already been decided during the research proposal stage, and subsequently in chapter one ( introduction) of the work.
However, in an event where the empirical review is to be conducted as a stand-alone paper, a topic, therefore, needs to be decided on, this is important as it gives insight into what problems / solutions that your review will aim to highlight . It also enables you to streamline your literature search using relevant keywords and other relevant indices.
- Highlight the studies / literature that you will review in the empirical review
During the literature search process, it is common that you will come across several related works of literature depending on the volume of research work already done in your chosen field of research interest. What do you do in such an event where you are bombarded with lots of empirical studies in your chosen area?
Arranging the scholarly work based on their level of relatedness and significance to your study could greatly help reduce the researcher’s burden. You could come up with inclusion criteria for the works of literature obtained, by so doing, you are most likely not to exclude works of literature that could have been very beneficial and include those that hold lesser significance to your empirical review.
- Analyze the works of literature separately.
At this point, you are expected to analyze and present the results of your review in a manner that ensures understanding and guarantees logical sequence and progression. Most times when your review is presented in a haphazardous manner, it robs the readers of the bliss of the scholarly work (s) being revealed and at the same time defeats the goals of the entire review process.
Hence, it is encouraged that you begin your review by going through each article, highlighting such key aspects as the name of the author (s), the title of the paper, the number of objectives raised, and research questions asked about the study design , the population, and sampling techniques, the data collection instrument as well as the data analysis procedures and techniques.
The most significant findings of the research should also be highlighted as well as recommendations made. Use connecting verbs to compare or find a common ground between the findings or methodological approaches in two or more studies.
- Summarize the literature in table or concept map format.
Summarizing your works of literature in tables or using a concept map format can provide your readers with quick insight into what your study and its findings are. Using table format to present the summary of your literature review could create room for easy tracing of sources, for instance, it is easy to match a finding with the authors as these are presented in the table. The use of the concept map also has its benefits, as it serves as a visual representation of information and the general ideas shared in the study.
- Synthesize the literature and then proceed to write your empirical review.
Synthesizing the works of literature in this context could mean, identifying studies that share remarkable points of similarities or even differences. These studies can be reviewed side by side, depending on what the point of connection is (for its similarity or difference) as well as what the researcher aims to emphasize or highlight.
After you have done all that has been recommended in this article, I bet that you are already prepared to start your review. As a word of caution, do not always be in a hurry to begin your empirical review, especially when you have not gained sufficient understanding of the things you need to do to set you up on a good start.
As you write your empirical review, avoid the verbatim presentation of ideas and findings in the reviewed journals, as this increases the plagiarism percentage of your work, and makes your work boring and not innovative. The best bet here would be presenting the ideas and findings in your own words while ensuring that the major aims of the studies are not defeated, or the wrongful interpretation of a researcher’s findings.
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