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Resources for reviewing the literature

The review was informed by the following articles about doing literature reviews. I first read them when approaching the review for my dissertation study on parenting stress. I thought it might be helpful to share the excerpts which I found most compelling.

Boote, D. N., & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15. doi:10.3102/0013189X034006003 

From Boote & Beile (2005):

"A good review of the literature cannot guarantee either a rigorous study or significant findings. Just because authors understands the research that others have done does not mean that they will necessarily be able to collect, analyze, or interpret data well. It certainly does not mean that their interpretation of prior research in the field will lead them to focus on research problems that will yield significant and important studies." (p. 19)


"Imagine if we were to devote one tenth as much energy, care, and thought to being better scholars as we do to developing our methods of data collection and analysis. That we have not done so is a symptom of the broader culture of education research that artificially distinguishes between literature review, on the one hand, and methods and analytic techniques, on the other. As a result, empiricism and methodological issues have been ascendant at the expense of scholarship, generativity, and theory building. Theorizing is fundamental to research and scholarship. It is an understanding of the literature that leads to increasingly sophisticated inquiry, connecting research methods and claims with their warrants." (p. 12)


Leech, N. L., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2008). Qualitative data analysis: A compendium of techniques and a framework for selection for school psychology research and beyond. School Psychology Quarterly, 23(4), 587-604.


Montuori, A. (2005). Literature review as creative inquiry: Reframing scholarship as a creative process. Journal of Transformative Education, 3(4), 374-393. doi:10.1177/1541344605279381

From Montuori (2005):

"A literature review can be framed as a creative process, one in which the knower is an active participant constructing an interpretation of the community and its discourse, rather than a mere bystander who attempts to reproduce, as best she or he can, the relevant authors and works. Creative inquiry also challenges the (largely implicit) epistemological assumption that it is actually possible to present a list of relevant authors and ideas without in some way leaving the reviewer’s imprint on that project. It views the literature review as a construction and a creation that emerges out of the dialogue between the reviewer and the field." (p. 375)


"We begin with an interest that may have been sparked, for instance, by our own personal experience intersecting with our reading of the work of one member of this community of inquiry. As we begin to explore one view, we come into contact with other members of the community. Soon enough, we find that like any community, or any family, there are alliances, friendships, arguments, longstanding feuds, and so on. Some of the members of our community may have views we believe to be deeply misguided, whereas some we may be in complete agreement with. It is worth keeping in mind the inspirational potential of views we disagree with. Sometimes it is precisely an author whose work we detest and are in complete and utter disagreement with who may motivate us to go deeper into in an issue, write an article, challenge a position, and so on. We might view the literature review as our description of, and entry point into, our community, the beginning of our dialogue with “our people.” This is how we see and describe them and how we describe ourselves and our participation in this community." (p. 376)


"The literature simply did not reflect my personal experience or the reality of collaborative creativity in music (e.g., jazz) or movie making, for instance, and focused instead on writers, painters, individual scientists, and others who worked alone. A reflection on the literature based on my own personal experience therefore allowed me to spot a gap in the research. I mention this to stress the importance of seeing the literature from the perspective of one’s lived experience, rather than as a body of knowledge that is “out there” and fundamentally extraneous to our real life concerns. One can engage the literature as a “thing” out there that needs to be digested and regurgitated at the appropriate time or as a living dialogue in which one can bring all of one’s lived experience, questions, and creativity." (p. 379)


"My point is to invite a view of the literature review as an opportunity to explore a tremendously rich and interconnected network of people, ideas, works, and events and potentially begin an ongoing inquiry into the assumptions that underlie the fields we are researching where if anything we run the risk of falling down a rabbit hole rather than being bored. Where this inquiry will lead us is unknown—and that is precisely what makes the process exciting." (p. 385)


"We learn about theories and movements, we learn about X’s theory and Y’s theory, but we hear about them as finished theories, as complete works. We are rarely given insights into the creative process of the people whose works we are reading and theories we are studying. We don’t hear about the emotions, the passions, the values, the flashes of inspiration, not to mention the politicking, the competitiveness, and the occasional outsized egos. All of that remains obscured, and sometimes it seems as if the science of genetics and the double helix and the fierce intellectual and interpersonal struggles and competitiveness of Crick and Watson are two separate worlds rather than part of one larger system of human activity. This interpersonal messiness is not the province of scientific inquiry, or at least so we are led to believe until we witness our first faculty meeting (Wilshire, 1990).We never really hear about the people, their lives, their contexts, and their struggles. This is something for biographies, typically written by journalists, not academics. And yet just as the political and interpersonal dimension is clearly a part of the reality of joining any academic community, so is the creative process, arguably the most exciting aspect of science (Mitroff, 1974)." (p. 387)


"For those interested in a more complex view of inquiry, there is a remarkable challenge ahead, not least of which is reintegrating the creative process, with all its passion and serendipity and subjectivity and transgressiveness, into academic inquiry. A literature review offers us the opportunity to truly immerse ourselves in the reality of the creative process, the experience of the individuals (to the extent that there is available information, of course), their social context, and the interaction of individuals, ideas, movements, social and political trends, and so on—what Barron called the ecology of creativity (Barron, 1995)." (p. 388)


"Academic scholarship, and even those aspects that seem to be most pedestrian, can be framed in a way that recognizes the creativity of the inquirer, of the inquiry process, and of the subject being investigated." (p. 390)


Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Leech, N. L., & Collins, K. M. T. (2012). Qualitative analysis techniques for the review of the literature. The Qualitative Report, 17(Art. 56), 1-28.

From Onwuegbuzie, Leech, & Collins (2012):

"Interestingly, if each work is viewed as a case, then—borrowing concepts of intrinsic case studies (i.e., studies designed to understand each particular [e.g., illustrative, deviant] case), instrumental case studies (i.e., studies designed to examine a particular case primarily to provide insight into an issue or to redraw a generalization), and multiple case studies (i.e., instrumental studies extended to several cases) from Stake (2005)—a within-study literature analysis can stem either from an intrinsic literature analysis or an instrumental literature analysis. In other words, a within-study literature analysis is pertinent whether each work is selected by the reviewer because in all its particularity and ordinariness, this work itself is of interest (i.e., intrinsic case study) or whether each work is important for synthesizing the existing body of knowledge, which then will be utilized for making inferences about the topic of interest." (p. 5)


"Thus, if researchers, scholars, and practitioners provide the body of literature that inform literature reviews, why should reviewers be limited to pre-existing print and digital sources? Why can’t literature reviews also stem from other sources, such as directly from the researchers, scholars, and practitioners themselves? Our student researchers have found, for example, that by interviewing leading researchers and scholars in the field, they gain insights about the topic that they could not have extracted from either the print or digital material." (p. 7)


"Using Leech and Onwuegbuzie’s (2007) conceptualization, we contend that there are two major goals for using multiple source types during the literature review process, namely representation and legitimation. Representation refers to the ability to extract adequate meaning from the information at hand. Using multiple source types allows the reviewer to combine the information from various sources in order to understand better the phenomenon. In other words, using multiple source types allows the reviewer to get more out of the data, thereby (potentially) generating more meaning and, in turn, enhancing the quality of syntheses. (p. 8)