Where is the literature review?

Some of you may be asking at this point where is the review of the literature? Where does it fit? Isn’t that a component of the research system?

In a way it is. But in a way it is not. The literature review is like a window running in the background of the process of enacting these various components. You are reviewing literature right up until you sign off on the last sentence of the paper.

You are reviewing literature all the while you are developing and refining our question, arriving at your research design, looking at design and question in relation to the kind of theoretical approach and conceptualisation you think is best for doing the job, and (of course) while you are working out how you are going to gather and analyse data, and interpret what comes out of all it.

You need to note that the structure of a research paper is not precisely the same thing as the logic of research as a systematic process. It gets as close as it can. You can review literature to help you craft a study in which the components cohere and come together effectively as an investigation of the question. You can write that up as best you can. Your engagement with the literature is present in every part of the paper. More likely than not there will be a section on the literature but that does not mean that is the only place in the paper where other work is referred to. Some of you may opt to do a review of literature1 as your research study. This work still needs to be informed by the logic we have mapped here.

Whatever else the paper reports, it must report a problem conceptualised as a question; it must report how the project has been designed; it must report the framework of theory and concepts used to give the study shape; it must report the study made of research approaches and methods and how this, in conjunction with the frameworks and design warrants the use of particular specialised methods and the like for gathering and analysing data; and it must report the just and reasonable interpretation of findings, generation of conclusions and so on.

And it must do this in a way that reveals the coherence – the Matryoshka dollness – of the whole thing.

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