Research Literature Review

What goes into an acceptable review? The first sentence of each review must include the author’s name(s), the date of publication (in parentheses) and a concise statement of the study’s purpose. Do not say something like: “The general purpose of the study was… But the more specific goal included…“ Instead, go directly to the specific purpose. To illustrate, an acceptable first sentence could be something like:


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The purpose of Towson’s study (2020) was to explore differences between the genders in terms of rye bread preference.

Keep your statement of purpose brief. Do not have multiple sentences. Instead, present the purpose in one overarching manner. Presumably if there are multiple sub goals (for lack of a better term), that fact will become clear as you talk about the study’s findings. We do not care why the authors pursued a different topic. We do not care about the authors’ ultimate goal. Instead, keep your focus on only the specific study to be reviewed.

After the statement of purpose, provide your reader with what can be termed ‘foundational information.’ That is, who were the study’s subjects? How were they obtained? Were there eligibility criteria to be fulfilled? What did they look like – descriptively? Perhaps you would present here the gender distribution, age, or other basic information that you feel helpful in understanding the authors’ work. Remember, however, that just because something was published does not mean it’s necessarily useful to your review. Whatever data you include have to be interpretable. For example, to say that the sample had a mean age of 22.56 years makes sense. To say that there was a standard deviation of 2.11 in terms of attitudes toward rye bread has no intrinsic meaning. So don’t include it.

After providing insight into who was studied, tell your reader what happened to the subjects. Were they assigned to different study groups? If so, how? What distinguished among the groups? Were they participants in an intervention? If so, offer a general description of the intervention in terms of contents and length. Do not describe the intervention in detail. An overview will suffice. Also important is informing your reader how the data were collected. What tools did the authors use to collect what data? When and how, in the flow of the study were those tools administered? For example, did subjects complete online surveys one week before the intervention began and again, two weeks after the conclusion of the curriculum? You will not discuss the instruments’ reliability or validity. Nor will you discuss why the authors’ chose their specific tools or how the tools were created. That the researcher used a variant of someone else’s tool is not pertinent to our needs. Stick to only what specific tool(s) were used in the study you are reviewing.

Once you’ve provided all foundational information, you then present the author’s findings. If present, descriptive findings should first be offered. In case you forgot, descriptive findings include things like means, medians, and modes. Descriptive findings (aka descriptive statistics) do not include p values nor any discussion of statistical significance. Once you’ve completed your presentation of descriptive findings, you will move on to the authors’ inferential analyses.

Inferential findings can be tricky. To keep life simple, remember that the goal of Seminar is to establish your mastery of relevant content. In terms of your reviews, that means you must communicate your understanding of inferential analyses. To do so, do not offer a paragraph or sentence(s) that in the spirit of: “The authors used chi squared, t test and regression analysis to analyses their data.” A sentence of that sort doesn’t communicate mastery. Instead it just reflects writing down the methods without displaying any understanding. The approach you instead will follow will marry the inferential method of analysis to each finding that was obtained from its application. For example:

Using Pearson r, Radius reported that age correlated with the number of hours spent weekly at the gym (p<.05).

In the above, I identified the specific method of analysis, the p value obtained for the finding, and the finding itself. As written, however, the sentence is still incomplete. It fails to establish that I understand the meaning of the analysis. Did older people spend more – or fewer – hours per week at the gym? My sentence omits any substantively meaningful interpretation. For class purposes, that interpretation is mandatory. Working with the above sample, an acceptable approach could be the following:

Using Pearson r, Radius reported that age correlated with the number of hours spent weekly at the gym (p<.05). Older participants spent more hours per week at the gym than did their younger counterparts.

If you are going to discuss multiple findings obtained from Pearson r, you do not have to include ‘Pearson r’ in each sentence. Your reader will assume that Pearson r was used until you identify a different method of analysis. You must provide p values for all inferential findings – even ones that did not achieve statistical significance.

Once you complete your review of findings, you begin the final portion of each review – the author’s conclusions. This section is not a repetition of findings. If you find yourself saying something that you already stated, you know you’re moving in the wrong direction. Nor is it a place to offer new findings. Instead, this final portion of each review is where you discuss what the authors – not you – concluded based on the study they completed. Perhaps they argued that the sample was wrong or too small. Perhaps they maintained that their study supported use of a particular curriculum. There are many types of conclusions that authors might offer. Journals in our field structure their articles in different ways. Some journal articles have sections called ‘Implications’ or ‘Discussion.’ Some articles include ‘Conclusions.’ You never know where author conclusions might exist, so be sure to comb through each article in its entirety.

As you write up authors’ conclusions, be sure that every sentence is in the authors’ voice. Conclusions are not yours – instead they are those of the author. To avoid incorrectly attributing assertions to you, you could use language like:

Radius maintained…The investigator argued… According to the researcher…

Once you’ve provided authors’ conclusions, your review is done. You then move on to the next article to be reviewed. There is not any transitional prose between reviews. You would not, for example, say something like: “Unlike Radius, Towson studied …” Instead you go directly into your next review, beginning with the authors’ statement of purpose and all other mandatory content for each review.

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