This essay discusses the challenges of writing a literature review. The first readings that one does in laying the groundwork for one’s literature review allow one to fill in the background on one’s topic and to get an intellectual feel for the subset of knowledge in which one will be focusing one’s efforts for the next several years.
The first readings that one does in laying the groundwork for one’s literature review allow one to fill in the background on one’s topic and to get an intellectual feel for the subset of knowledge in which one will be focusing one’s efforts for the next several years. The first several weeks and perhaps even several months of research should allow the student to become familiar with who the “players” are in the field (the people whose names come up again and again in the works of others and whom one will most certainly have to discuss – although not necessarily to agree with).
This stage of the literature review should also provide the student with a personal starting point – not only to write the literature review but also to begin one’s own research. Looking at recent review articles on the topic is an especially effective way to find this starting point: Such articles will let you know what the cutting edge research in this area is, which may well give you a sense of where your own jumping off point should be. You might decide, for example, to expand on a recent work of research. Alternatively, you might find a lot of the recent research to be silly at best and decide to pursue research that allows you to clarify what is missing (or misguided) about the work that you are reading.
It is a common experience of students at this point to feel that there is simply too much to learn (or, as Leedy & Omrod, 2000, warn, simply too little on the topic) to make one’s own research practical to pursue. There is likely to be the temptation to throw up one’s hands and consider a career as a dental hygienist – or at least to change one’s dissertation topic to one of the other topics that one considered at the beginning of the project and that all now look far, far more promising than the topic that one actually did choose.
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