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Graduate Research in Law

A guide to the library resources for the graduate programmes at Dalhousie Law School.

What is the Literature Review?

“A Research literature review is a systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners.”

Arlene Fink, Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper (London, Sage, 2010) at 3.

“A formal literature review is a very specific piece of argumentative writing. It is a work that relies on scientific and academic discourse and debate to construct arguments about a current research project.”

Zina O’Leary, The Essential Guide to Doing Research (London, Sage, 2004) at 78.

Steps of the Literature Review

1. Select Research Questions

A research question is a precisely stated question that guides the review.

2. Select Bibliographic Indices, Databases or Websites

The bibliographic databases of interest in research reviews contain full reports of original studies. Other sources for literature reviews include experts in the field of interest, the web, and the reference lists contained in the books/articles.

3. Choose Search Terms (Ask Experts)

Search terms are the words and phrases that you use o get the appropriate articles, books, and reports. You base them on the words and concepts that frame the research questions and you use the particular grammar and logic to conduct the search.

4. Apply Practical Screens

Preliminary literature searches always yield too many articles, but only a few are relevant. You screen the literature to get at the relevant articles by setting criteria for inclusion into and exclusion from the review. Practical screening criteria include factors such as the language in which the article is printed, the setting of the study, and its funding source.

5. Apply Methodological Screens

Methodological criteria include criteria for evaluating the adequacy of a study’s coverage and its scientific quality.

6. Do the Review

Reliable and valid reviews involve using a standardized process for abstracting data from articles, training reviewers to do the abstraction, monitoring the quality of the review, and plot testing the process.

7. Synthesize the Results

Literature reviews results may be synthesized descriptively. Descriptive syntheses are interpretations of the reviews findings based on the reviewers’ experience and the quality and content of the available literature.

8. Produce Descriptive Review

Primarily qualitative synthesis of results.

Fink, 2010, 5, c.f. Hart, C. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination (London: Sage,1998)