• Reza

A Different way to Look at Literature Reviews



I​n the early days of my research I used to get really annoyed by "having to" do a literature review before I could jump into the "interesting" stuff! I did get the point of citations. They are there to support your claim and show that you're not bullshitting!


1- It Isn't Listing a Bunch of Works!

So in my view, I would narrate my story and cite relevant works whenever I feel it's needed. I didn't get the point of "listing" all these works by these random people just to prove "I know my stuff"! Can't you just read my story and see for yourself how novel and original I am?! It's not like I can prove that my work is original! Because I can list all the works in the world, all the works that are published up to the moment I'm submitting the paper. And by the time that the reviewer get to it, there may be a paper published exactly on the same topic! It sounded all pointless to me. Yes, I am very existential!


2- Tell Your Own Story

It was only after I stopped seeing literature review as "listing", and started seeing it as "narrating" that I found it really interesting and saw the importance of it. You see, you don't have to list all the works in your area to know you have a good literature review. You can't! What you are supposed to do for your literature review is to narrate a story. A story that gives context to the topic of your discussion and tells the tales of all the people who have worked on it before you. It expresses why you, the author, the researcher, that curious soul, decided to study this matter. Why you find it interesting and of value, and why you think that this particular topic needs more investigation. It is your literature review that tells the reader why your work matters and why they should care about it. You don't need to be comprehensive in terms of all the work that's out there. Be comprehensive about the work that's right in front of the reader! Tell your own story!


3- It's All about You and Your Work

If you ask the "experts", they tell you literature review is about showing that you know how to find works in your area of study, how to summarize and explain them, how to draw meaningful conclusions out of them, and how to find areas that are not represented well enough (gaps). If you ask me, I tell you all that is true. But pay attention to what you are trying to prove! You're not trying to prove you know how to do a literature review. You are trying to tell a story that you think is important, and you're using compelling evidences to make your point. It's all about you and your story; not your reviewers!


So here is the summary:


1- Don't get obsessed with listing too many papers

2- Tell your own story and use citations when needed

3- It's all about your work. It is OK to drop information if they aren't related to what you are trying to say


Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below and hopefully we can start an interesting conversation. :)

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