- A good literature review is a critical synthesis of the literature on a specific topic e.g. the relationship between class size and student achievement. Too many students engage in “telling” (what X or Y said about the topic) rather than also “synthesizing” (what is said, how well it is said, what is missing etc.)
- A good literature review works with published research literature rather than opinion pieces, advocacy material or professional viewpoints on the topic. This means that the principal resource for information on the topic is journal articles that publish current research.
- A good literature review works mainly with recent research on the topic given the growth in knowledge on any subject. The only exception is where a classic text is referred to or in the case of historical research which of course requires a long-term view of the literature e.g. the history of corporal punishment in South African education.
- A good literature review, having described what is known about the topic, brings in the voice of the researcher in the assessment of that literature. This is difficult for novice researchers but something that should and can be learnt, for example, by reading how others do book reviews or literature reviews in journals that specialize in that particular craft e.g. The Review of Educational Research or The Review of Research in Education.
- A good literature review is able to give a competent account of what is known about the topic as a first step. This means being able to give a cogent and concise account in one paragraph, in your own words, what a body of research says about the topic.
- A good literature review then is able to say what it not well known about the topic as a second step. This means being able to identify silences, gaps or contradictions in the body of literature on the specific topic. This is the critical in a critical synthesis of the literature.
- A good literature review then is able to say how your research addresses the weakness(es) in the literature reviewed as a third step.
- A good literature review is therefore able to acknowledge the research done on the topic (we stand on the shoulders of giants) and then demonstrate how the research proposed on the topic adds value or new knowledge on the topic (we step on the toes of giants).
- A good literature review has a competent grasp of all the major published research on the topic. This means, as a rule of thumb, at least 100 solid research articles on the topic should be reviewed.
- A good literature review is written in a fluent, academic voice from beginning to end, almost like a spy novel, so that reader is captured in the story until it reaches its climax—“and this is how my research hopes to fill the gap/address the silence/resolve the contradiction/add new knowledge on the topic under review. This means that the final copy of the literature review would have undergone MANY revisions and, done well, could be a standalone chapter in the thesis or dissertation.
PS. Always useful to do an annotated bibliography of all your literature references before starting to write the literature review