The Literature Review, Part 2: What Not to Include

Posted December 7, 2017

This blog is about what not to include in your literature review. In short, the literature review is a snapshot of the current state of research on your topic, including research on study variables and major concepts or theories of your study. The literature review also helps to support your research problem and rationalize why your study is necessary by identifying gaps in the literature and methodological weaknesses of previous studies. Below is what not to include in your literature review.

Do not include purely historical or informational material, such as information from websites. Information from reputable web sites, such as government and state sites, can be useful. But such information is typically more suitable for background or introductory sections of the dissertation. If it is necessary to include historical or informational material in your literature review, do so sparingly.

Also, be cautious about the use of books in literature reviews. Although manuscripts of academic books are often sent to external reviewers, it is difficult to be certain whether a book manuscript was peer reviewed. Different publishers have different approaches, and there are no review standards for book manuscripts. Some schools and professors allow books in literature reviews; however, a general rule of thumb is that books should be used sparingly and with a degree of caution.

Do not include extended quotations, and use direct quotes sparingly, if at all. The literature review is a synthesis and analysis of research on your topic in your own words. Most ideas can be and should be paraphrased. Professors sometimes perceive undue reliance on quotations as intellectual laziness. However, if you feel it necessary to use quotations, use them sparingly.

One caveat to the above suggestions is the theoretical framework. If you have a theoretical foundation or framework section in your literature review, it may be necessary to use books and older foundational articles to explain and support theories. Theories are developed over time; consequently, it takes longer to publish on theories compared to studies. Discussion and development of theories often appear in books. However, do not use material from websites to support your theoretical framework.

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