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I am a studying for a master of management. It is the first time that I will write a thesis. I found the literature review difficult: I found several articles, but I do not know how I will do next. Should I read the articles and highlight what seems interesting to me and then re-read them and start writing, or should I read each article and start writing in parallel?

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As a professor in a French grande école de commerce, I am pretty familiar with the requirements of a literature review for a master's thesis.

I can recommend to you an article I wrote on the subject. In summary, there are eight general steps:

  1. Identify the purpose of your literature review. In your case, it is to understand what scholars have said related to the topic of your thesis.
  2. Plan the review. Outline the steps that you plan to take to carry out the literature review.
  3. Apply the practical screen. That is, clearly decide what kinds of topics you will search for and which you will not search for because they are beyond the scope of your focus.
  4. Search for the literature. Try to have a meeting with you your school library to help you understand how to use the scholarly databases and get you started in searching for the articles.
  5. Extract the data. Read the articles and use a table to record the most important elements from each article.
  6. Appraise the quality of the studies. This step is probably not necessary for a master's thesis.
  7. Synthesize studies. Do not just summarize the articles one by one; rather, identify and discuss the most important themes that run through multiple articles.
  8. Write the review. Compose and put everything together.

The article linked above has details on each of these steps.

Reference

Okoli, Chitu, 2015. A Guide to Conducting a Standalone Systematic Literature Review. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 37(43), pp.879–910. Available at: http://aisel.aisnet.org/cais/vol37/iss1/43

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General advice is below. In your question specifically, it sounds like you need to specify the particular area(s) of interest and specific research questions. Those will constrain what papers/sources to find and how far to look. The purpose is to connect what you've done with what was done before. This integration or synthesis depends on connecting the terms and methods of your work with the existing literature. So, the main task is to search and organise the previous work.

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LITERATURE SEARCH

The purpose is a broad sweep to identify research that is relevant to a specific area or research question. When getting the scope of a literature, don't read closely, just take notes. Start by reading about the research question. If the area is self-esteem, read the article on Wikipedia to get oriented to the concepts and terms.

Also read about Boolean search logic, truncation, and wildcards. It’s especially importantly to use “” to form phrases. Notice how different your results are in Google when you search social memory vs. “social memory”.

If using a University library website, go there and choose the best database. PsycInfo is the central database for psychology. We also commonly use Google and Google Scholar. For medical papers, use PubMed. For economics, JSTOR. For education, ERIC.

Search! If you get too few results (usually <20), broaden your keywords. If you get too many (usually >200), use quotes, different terms, or more terms. The “right” number of results is a tricky issue to nail down. It depends on the research question. Communicate clearly with me about your search terms and database and what you’re finding and I’ll be able to direct you.

Good progress! Now search again using different keywords. For example, a project about randomness might include these different search terms, searched separately or together in various combinations, e.g.,: fate fatalism causation causal cause randomness meaning control “personal need for structure” “need for cognition".

Document your process. Include the database, search terms, and notes about the search process. Was it easy to answer the question? Of the citations you found, were there many more, or were you scraping the bottom?

When you find a good, relevant article, use Web of Science to check which articles have cited that article since it was published, and look for new material.

Document your findings. Using a Google document or spreadsheet, probably one that I’ve shared with you already, include the citation, abstract, and your summary of why you included this article, the central finding of the article, and any questions you have for me and our team about the citation.

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