Aims and objectives

There are many angles from which a literature review can be approached. You could be looking at the theoretical arguments and premises of your subject, maybe the paradigms and methodology, policies that have been adopted or maybe quantitive (effectiveness of new procedures) or qualitative research (case studies.). Although many strands of literature reviews will intertwine and cross over at some point, it is very important that you define the standpoint of your review and understand its parameters, or there is a very real danger that you may stray from the point of your review (Ridley, 2008).

First it is really important to take some time to really think about your approach before you begin work. Many projects have failed purely because the aim of the review was not clear in the head of the reviewer and that consequently was responsible for the production of a woolly and rambling piece of work, which failed to establish any point adequately.

So it is essential to identify the aims of your review before you start. Are you attempting to produce an overview of the subject or in reviewing the literature are you undertaking stand-alone research?

In either case draw up a list of the sources that will supply the information you need. Study the references given in those pieces of work for a broader understanding of the topic. To give contrast and spark debate, always try to find sources whose opinions differ in some respect so that you can demonstrate your own understanding and interpretation of the subject. Sweetnam (2000) When you are referring to the basis from which theories have been developed. For example if you were studying economics, start with a reference to and study of those the early days of the theory or development of a subject (Todaro, 1997). Go on to extrapolate the theories or findings, through subsequent works by different exponents ending with your own findings, supported by references to the material you have presented. If the work is intended to represent stand-alone research make your findings clear and your suggestions for further study obvious.

At the end of any review work you should always take the opportunity to demonstrate the fact that you have understood the subject and have formulated your own ideas on how the subject should progress or what areas might be controversial or warrant further study for other reasons. As ever, always leave the reader with something to think about!