Module 3

Literature review

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The main purpose of a literature review for MSc research:

  1. to establish its originality and to put the proposed research in context
  2. the literature review justifies the choice of research methods.

A possible definition of a literature review is:
"The selection of available documents on the topic, which contain information, ideas, data and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfil certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated and the effective evaluation of these documents in relation to the research being proposed" (Hart, Doing a literature review: releasing the social science research imagination, 1998).
This can only be done in a structured and systematic way.

The main purpose of a literature review within the context of research is to establish its originality; that is, that the work proposed has not already been done. Almost always something related has been done; the review organizes these, discusses them, and points out their limitations, some of which will be addressed in the research. A second purpose is to place the proposed research in context, that is, to show its importance within a wider problem area. This must be established from the opinions of others, who define the context and identify important unsolved problems. This means existing literature on the topic has been used. A third purpose is to compare methodological approaches to the research problem. There are almost always several ways to address a research problem, and here they are compared, in order to justify the approach to be taken in the proposed research. Note that this may combine aspects of several previous approaches.

Without a literature review somebody will not be able to acquire an understanding of the topic. The literature review is part of somebody’s academic development and is needed to become an expert in the field.
The literature review is integral to the success of academic research. It is not just a stage to be undertaken.

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