critically reviewing relevant literature | My Assignment Tutor

Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods192. Putting the problem into context: identifyingand critically reviewing relevant literatureSuggested reading:Research Methods for Business Students, (Saunders, M, Lewis, P et al. 2007 pp66-67) Chapter 32.1 Chapter Overview2.1.1 Learning OutcomesBy the end of this chapter successful students will be able to:1. See how literature review relates to research projects2. Identify literature from primary, secondary and tertiary sources3. Undertake effective literature searching4. Critically analyse literature for a research project5. Apply Harvard referencing style2.2 How does literature relate to research?In the Chapter 1 we discussed superficial research studies and the idea that theory was going to berelevant to good quality business research, whether or not immediate practical questions needed ananswer. We also talked briefly about what theory was and what it was for. We identified deductiveresearch, which looked first at theory and identified propositions or hypotheses, which the researchwas meant to confirm or disprove, and we found the opposite direction, inductive research whichbegins with the study of a situation and then seeks to generate theory.Any research study, inductive or deductive, which you undertake for academic purposes, will alwaysrequire a review of relevant literature, and that will be a “critical” review, not just a description ofwhat others have said. When you are working in an organisation, you may find that there is no time toconduct a full literature review, but this module will try to convince you that a clear idea of thetheoretical context of a piece of research, helps you to clarify its purpose and outcomes, and makeclear for which situations your findings do or do not hold. We all need to get into the habit of literaturesearching before working out how to research a particular topic.At the very minimum, it is desirable to search professional or industry sources of information beforecompleting a research study of any kind at work. This will demonstrate your professionalism and thebreadth of your understanding of the field. Anyone can ask a few people to fill in a questionnaire, butnot everyone can make sense of the answers!Putting the problem into context … Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods212.3.1 Primary literature sourcesThese are the sources, which are the least accessible, often being company literature or unpublishedresearch, private correspondence and can include conference proceedings. What is their value? Insome cases this is very valuable information, which relates directly to the research problem in whichyou are interested. For example, suppose you are researching corporate advertising to children, anarea, which is sensitive. Much information about what companies decide, and why, will be containedin company documents and emails. However access to primary sources is becoming easier as the webprovides an instant publishing medium.Blogs and personal websites are able to bring primary literature directly to the public, however weshould bear in mind that in such direct personal publication, there is no vetting or monitoring processas there usually is in a secondary source. DO NOT confuse primary literature sources with “primaryresearch”. The latter means research you have conducted yourself for a specific purpose (whichproduces more primary literature ie yours).2.3.2 Secondary literature sourcesThese sources are much more easily available in the public domain. They include published books andarticles in journals, news media and published business, government and international bodypublications. Why are they secondary sources? Usually they reproduce in a different format what wasoriginal primary work. For example, a researcher will often first reveal their findings at a relevantconference and these may get published later in an academic journal. Similarly business consultantswill report research findings to their clients – often the company in which or for which the researchwas completed – but later may seek permission to disseminate findings more publicly, perhaps in ananonymised or generalised form, in a professional journal or news report.Value is high but information in these publicly available media is likely to be less current than primarysources, due to the time it takes to check, review, authorise and publish. However, the web is making ahuge difference here. Already many academic journals and professional publications are availablefulltext on the web. In some cases, there is no time difference between primary and secondary sources.For academic research, peer-reviewed journals, such as the Journal of Management Studies, areconsidered more reliable sources than trade magazines or news channels, as the material will have toby monitored by experts in the relevant field, who are not in the business of selling publications.Textbooks may also be peer-reviewed to some extent, but due to the time lag of publication, and theneed to reach a wider readership in order to recoup the costs of publication, they tend to be lessspecialised than journal articles and possibly less current.Putting the problem into context …Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods22It is also possible to find academic journal articles which are themselves reviews of academicliterature. While most articles will relate studies to the published field, a published literature reviewwill provide a deep and wide range critique within a particular field. Of course, the review will only beuseful at a time close to its publication, since there will usually be additions to the field after that timewhich are not included. There is a rigorous method for undertaking such reviews, known as“systematic review” (see page 72 Box 3.7 in the textbook). Such systematic reviews enable findings to bechecked by readers as they show an audit trail of review, and are usually high quality scholarly works.Consider doing a brief search using either Google Scholar ( or another databaseor search engine such as Emerald for a “systematic review” of an area of business literature. Read theabstract, or the full article if you prefer, and familiarise yourself with a good quality literature review.2.3.3 Tertiary literature sourcesThese are collections of, or gateways to, secondary sources. They include encyclopaedias, dictionaries,citation indexes, catalogues and web-based portals, databases and journals’ contents pages. We usetertiary sources to track down secondary literature which is relevant to our field of study.Useful lists and details of primary, secondary and tertiary literature sources are given in most businessresearch methods textbooks; for example (Saunders, M, Lewis, P et al. 2007 pp66-67).2.4 Effective literature searchingMost of you will have received guidance on literature searching at some point in your studies. Just incase you don’t remember it, or you would like a refresher, here are some tips. If you are comfortablewith literature searching, skip this section and go to D.Sometimes searching for academic literature is simple. You want academic information on a specifictopic or by a particular author. You put the information into a web search engine and there it is.But sometimes it can seem like looking for a needle in haystack.For these times, consider a three stage search:Stage 11. First, make sure you are using appropriate search terms. Perhaps you don’t know enoughabout the topic to use the right vocabulary for searching. Or someone mentions a theory oridea, which means nothing to you. As a first step, just enter whatever you do know intoGoogle or Wikipedia. Remember that to narrow a search engine search you need to lengthen(ie make more specific) the search string. E.g. rather than just looking for “motivation”, trymore detail “Herzberg’s theory of motivation”. Hopefully that will bring you fewer and morerelevant results.Putting the problem into context … Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods246. Within the portal or database, use your more specific search terms and make sure you arelooking in the right place e.g. full text or abstract or keywords rather than journal title.7. Hopefully this search will find some useful academic articles. Read the abstracts and if theylook appropriate, try to go to fulltext if available. If not available go to step 9.8. Consider downloading 3 academic articles, which relate to your chosen topic. If they arefulltext, then scroll straight to the reference list at the end. Compare them and see whichauthors and works appear in more than one of the three lists. If you find some, you haveprobably found important academic sources on your topic. Go back to your academic database(such as Emerald fulltext) to key in these author names or titles to find good qualityinformation on your topic.Stage 39. Often the fulltext version of the articles you want is not available. It may ask you to subscribeor pay, or it may simply not be online as fulltext. In this case, print off the abstract and journaldetails of articles and take them to your library. In some cases an inter-library loan or aphotocopy can be procured for you.10. Don’t give up on important articles just because they aren’t fully online. Physically going tothe library may lead you to other similar information which is also not online. Also books!Loans of articles and books can take some time.11. Finally, remember that searching for relevant literature is just one, quite time-consuming,stage of research. Leave plenty of time to do this, because much of what you find and readwill not be useable in your final research study, but without searching and reading a widerange of literature, you are less likely to find the really appropriate sources that you need.2.4.1 How do we know when we have found enough?It is impossible to answer this question accurately. However, when you begin to find references to thesame ideas and authors in several articles you have found, you should start to feel more comfortablethat you have covered a good range of the literature for this topic. While you are still discovering yetmore and more angles to the topic in your reading, keep on reading.In most academic domains there are “seminal” articles or books, which are widely cited by otherauthors in the field. These are usually important to read, preferably in the original version if you canget hold of them. They will be the key pieces of literature, which have shaped the thinking ofresearchers and practitioners in the field. We had an example of this in the last chapter when wediscussed interpretivist research approaches and mentioned Weber (1947). Many writers on researchmethods, and sociology and philosophy, use his work, so although it was written many years ago, it isstill widely cited.Putting the problem into context … Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods262.5 Critical analysis of literature2.5.1 What does “critical” mean?The following table is an extract from The Study Skills Handbook (Cottrell, S 2003 p232). You mightconsider using this when you are drafting a piece of work. Check for those parts of your writing,which do the things on the left, and look across to see how you can redraft them into a criticalanalytical style. Descriptive writingCritical analytical writingStates what happenedIdentifies the significanceStates what something is likeEvaluates strengths and weaknessesGives the story so farWeighs one piece of information againstanotherStates the order in which things happenedMakes reasoned judgementsSays how to do somethingArgues a case according to the evidenceExplains what a theory saysShows why something is relevant or suitableExplains how something worksIndicates why something will work (best)Notes the method usedIdentifies whether something is appropriateor suitableSays when something occurredIdentifies why the timing is of importanceStates the different componentsWeighs up the importance of componentpartsStates optionsGives reasons for selecting each optionLists detailsEvaluates the relative significance of detailsLists in any orderStructures information in order of importanceStates links between itemsShows the relevance of links between piecesof informationGives informationDraws conclusions For much more in depth advice, consider looking at a book on critical thinking (Browne, M N andKeeley, S M 2003)Putting the problem into context …Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods272.5.2 Critiquing a published articleSaunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2007) discusses Mingers’ idea of four aspects of a critique (2000pp225-6) i.e. critiques of rhetoric, tradition, authority and objectivity.You could add a practical critique to this list, for example ask the question “How does this article oridea relate to a specific organisation, sector or problem?” Could the findings be generalised to aparticular context? If the author did not set out to generalise the findings or apply them to a particularcontext, then we cannot be negative about this, since it was not the author’s purpose. Yet someconcepts can be particularly useful in delivering an insight to a practical business situation.For example, Herzberg’s ideas on a two factor theory of motivation (1966) could be perceived as auniversal generalisation about how we understand what motivates staff. This finding could bepractically applied by minimising focus on dissatisfiers and maximising the focus on motivatingfactors. A narrower context might render the theory less powerful, for example a workplace wherestaff delivered a routine public service with few opportunities for intrinsic motivating factors (nocareer development or job change possibilities, no reward potential) where extrinsic dissatisfiers couldbe more useful in relation at least to staff retention.If you have difficulty thinking critically about something you are reading, you may wish to tryapplying the following set of questions, developed by Professor Tom Bourner (2003).1. What explicit assumptions are being made? Can they be challenged?2. What implicit/taken-for-granted assumptions are being made? Can they bechallenged?3. How logical is the reasoning?4. How sound is the evidence for the assertion(s)?5. Whose interests and what interests are served by the assertions?6. What values underpin the reasoning?7. What are implications of the conclusions?8. What meaning is conveyed by the terminology employed and the language used?9. What alternative conclusions can be drawn from the evidence?10. What is being privileged and what is off-the-agenda in this discourse?11. What is the context of this discourse? From what different perspectives can thediscourse be viewed?12. How generalisable are the conclusions?Source: Bourner, T. (2003). “Assessing Reflective Learning.” Education and Training.Putting the problem into context … Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods29TitleIntroducing the text – use Question 1 to write thisReporting the content – use Questions 2 and 3 to write thisEvaluating the content – use Question 4 to write thisDrawing your conclusion – use Question 5 to write this.When you are producing a literature review which will compare a number of articles or chapters abouta subject, if you have completed the synopsis questions, again you have a ready-made set ofinformation with which to compare articles:So a comparative critical summary would take this structure:TitleIntroducing the text – use answers to Question 1 for all textsReporting the content – use answers to Questions 2 and 3 for all texts to answer this(you can synthesise the answer rather than dealing with each one in turn)Evaluating the content – use answers to Question 4 for all texts to answer this (youcan easily compare each text this way)Drawing your conclusion – use answers to Question 5 to compare how useful each ofthe texts is in relation to your research question.This method is quite simple in structure, but will produce really good academic critical analysis if youthink carefully about your synopsis in the first place.2.5.3 Are there different ways of reading academic literature?It is always tempting to read without writing. Reading for academic purposes, however, invariablymeans reading with a computer to hand, or pen and paper, so that notes can be made during reading.Even just highlighting important extracts as you read can be futile if you are not going to go back overthe highlighted text and read it again to make useful notes.What kind of notes do you make? First it will be vital that you note down bibliographic details if youare making notes outside the text itself (on a separate piece of paper, in a notebook, in a database orcitation software). Always remember key details such as volume and issue numbers of journal articles,access dates if retrieving articles online, editors if you are reading a contributed chapter in a book. Ontop of this, we need to note responses to what you are reading e.g. surprise, disbelief, admiration, linksto other things you have read, questions. Doing this helps to ensure you don’t just record a description,but that you are starting to respond critically to what you read.Putting the problem into context …Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods302.5.4 Should I deal with each reference separately in the literature review?It is possible to do this, but it is not best practice. If you look at an article from a peer-reviewedacademic journal such as Personnel Review, you will rarely find a section on the literature, whichdeals with each piece separately. Instead you find that authors summarise and synthesise ideas fromthe literature, listing references together where they all take a particular perspective, discussing themseparately only when the difference between them is important to the article or research study.This means that we can start to see some stages in preparing a literature review: !!General keyword search to learn about the topic areaMore specific search (online and in libraries) to identify high quality literature (academic andprofessional) which relates to the topic area and research questionsUsing really relevant and good quality articles to identify others in the field through theirbibliographiesReading as much of what we find as possible until we are not finding new ideasNoting in a retrievable format not only what these articles and chapters say but theirbibliographical details (including access dates for web material) and your critical responses tothem and links with other literature (similarities, differences)Reviewing notes and discarding items which do not fit the research studyMaking new notes of the themes in the relevant literatureWriting the literature review on the basis of these themes, including appropriate referencing.Summarising what you have learned from the literature review relating to your research study.For example, what gap your primary research needs to fill, or what hypotheses you could testfrom the literature.!!!!!!! 2.5.5 Should I include my own opinions?Just recording your likes and dislikes about a piece of writing is insufficient, since this just tells usabout you, not about the piece of writing. Often universities spend some time encouraging students notto include their own opinions in their academic work, and this is because many students do includevery subjective reactions to theories, models or concepts, without arguing logically for their view orsupporting it with evidence from published literature.However, your opinion is important. Provided your opinion is based on evidence and logic, and isexpressed fairly and objectively, it is valuable. You will find that the simplest place to express youropinions, and develop them, is by posting messages in the discussion forum – recording yourresponses to what you read for the module. A discussion forum thrives on argument and peopleexpressing ideas and being open to others’ ideas. However, your academic assignment will need morecareful and cautious monitoring of how you express your views, to ensure that you express a balancedview, having weighed up, and referenced where possible, both sides of an argument.Putting the problem into context …Download free books at BookBooN.comBusiness Research Methods31Consider searching for an academic article, preferably a systematic review as mentioned above, on abusiness topic which interests you, follow the general search advice in these notes until you havetracked one down. Read and make notes on the article and then develop a 250 word critical responseto the article, using the technique described above. This should provide you with useable notes forrevision later, as well as good notes on the article if you are using it for an assignment.2.6 Using Harvard referencing styleFor any research of professional standard, consistent referencing of all sources of information used isvital. You will already have been doing this in your degree course, but at this stage in your studies youwill be penalised if the referencing style is not correct. When you have produced your own researchstudies and published them, you will want them to be correctly referenced so that no-one uses yourwork without attributing it to you.The Harvard style is the most common referencing style in use in universities across the world, butother styles do exist. The main point about Harvard style is that it does not use footnotes, which caninterrupt the flow of the text, and its bibliography is ordered alphabetically by author surname. Mostin-text referencing includes simply the author surname(s) and year of publication, plus page number ifa direct quotation is given. This means it is easy to find that reference in the surname orderedbibliography.The basic bibliographic style is author, year of publication, title, publisher, so even for web pageswithout clear guidance on referencing, we have to look for an author (perhaps the institution hostingthe site?), a year of publication (is there a recent revision or last updated date?), a title (even of thepage used) and a publisher (this could also be the hosting institution).For more detailed guidance, especially on referencing personal correspondence and electronic sources,try this Australian website: Questions for self review1. Why are critical reviews of relevant literature important in research studies?2. What are the three main types of literature source and what are the key differences betweenthem?3. If you were advising a novice researcher, how would you suggest they find useful publishedwork?4. What should you include in the bibliographic details of a chapter written by three contributingauthors, within an academic textbook?5. How can the five critical synopsis questions from Wallace and Wray help you to avoid“description” in literature reviews?Putting the problem into context …


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