Beginning Your Research Journey! Handy lessons on Reviewing the Literature

Guest Post by Dr. Sudhir Rana

Learning is an on-going process. We learn through experiences, either ours or someone else. We believe in reading and sharing our experiences, experiments, findings through various sources of literature, such as – Books, research papers, newspapers, blogs etc. Academic literature review is different from other literature sources such as religious, social, and entertainment forms of literature. We need a systematic approach and a scientific way to conduct our review of literature for academic and research purposes. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.” The two important questions often faced by the scholars while conducting review of literature for academic research are: (1) what to read and what to leave; and (2) from where to begin and how to organize the literature.

Conducting literature review is the first part while we begin our study whether it’s a Ph.D. thesis, a research paper or we want to conduct a research paper based on literature review. Review of literature acts like a guideline that plays the role of a root to conduct any research study.  By writing some research papers which are purely based on review of literature, I have learned how to go about it and solve this puzzle.

Choose the theme: The first step in the process of conducting review of literature is to decide about a broader theme of your study. For instance in business management you need to decide about the subject you are interested in carrying out your study that can be Marketing, Finance, Operation Research, Human Resource Management, Finance etc. Here, you need to go ahead in this decision and decide about the specialization field you are interested in conducting your research, for example, in marketing there can be many focuses like Consumer Behavior, Digital Marketing, Green Marketing, Advertising and Promotion, Pricing, International Marketing and so on.

The purpose at this stage is to establish, assess, and combine all applicable aspects pertaining to the theme and discipline you are interested in conducting research.

Selection of publication outlets: To review the discipline literature and deciding on from where you should read and what all should be included in the review, first you need to select the publication outlets. For this it is important to study and include the credible sources in your study. Various rankings and indexing authenticate credibility of any publication outlet. More often, Clarivate (Web of Sciences) and Scopus are two indexing followed by the academic researchers, similarly two rankings Chartered Association of Business Schools (Chartered ABS) list (2018) and the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) list (2019) are being considered as quality list of journals all across the globe. Both ABS and ABDC lists are often considered because the lists are exhaustive and contain 1561 (ABS) journals and 2682 (ABDC) journals respectively. Simultaneously both the lists are used as a guide by business schools around the world to assess the quality of the journals in which scholars’ research is published[1].

Following prior review by the scholars in business and management domain (Rana & Sharma, 2015; Shen, Puig & Paul, 2017; Serrano, Paul & Dikova, 2018), an author should begin searching the literature on the publisher’s website, mainly including Sage Publishing, Wiley, Springer Link, Emerald, Elsevier, Inderscience, Taylor & Francis and IGI Global.  Additionally, online libraries such as EBSCO Host, ProQuest, Jstor, JGate and Google Scholar are also a good way to identify and include each research published and available online.

Domain Focus: The second selection criterion is again to develop a bandwidth with the ongoing discussions and your own research interest. Journals host on-going discussions. Therefore, to ensure that your area of research provides justifications on its need and importance substantially, it is relevant to include arguments from previous literature. Therefore, you need to shortlist some key-words around the domain of your study and search literature through those key-words.

Selection of keywords: It is very important that you don’t loss on including any important study. Therefore, while searching include every important key-work related to your study. You may have something in mind considering why you think this domain is important to study. Who are the stakeholders in your study? What outcomes are expected from this study? These questions will be helpful in shortlisting appropriate key-words.

Classification of Research Papers: To map the publishing progress you need to classify the published literature under clusters. The classification can be based on your key-words, name of the journal, time-frame, authors, methodology on which these papers are based on. You may like to include more than one clustering method at the same time. Like, I keep generally three classifications while clustering my literature – (1) as per the key-words and sub-domains of my study; (2) year wise clustering so that I can map the journey of research domain over the period of time and see what is done and where do I have scope to contribute more; and journals wise clustering so that I know which journals I should focus more on reading and which are the journals where I have chances of publishing this research after completion.

The following literature review papers can be useful as a sample if you are aiming to conduct a paper which is purely literature review based.

Fink, A. (2014). Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rana, S., & Sharma, S. (2015). A literature review, classification, and simple meta-analysis on the conceptual domain of international marketing: 1990–2012. Advances in international marketing25(1), 189-222. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1474-797920140000025009

Shen, Z., Puig, F., & Paul, J. (2017). Foreign market entry mode research: A review and research agenda. The International Trade Journal31(5), 429-456. https://doi.org/10.1080/08853908.2017.13613688   

Rosado-Serrano, A., Paul, J., & Dikova, D. (2018). International franchising: A literature review and research agenda. Journal of Business Research85, 238-257. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.12.049

Rana, S., & Sharma, S. (2016). A review on the state of methodological trends in international marketing literature. Journal for Global Business Advancement, 9 (1) 90-107, https://doi.org/10.1504/JGBA.2016.074899

Moreover, before you begin you need to have

  1. Objectives of the literature review (why you are writing this literature review paper and what do you want to achieve)
  2. Methodology of conducting the review (good literature review papers are based on a method)

I shall discuss the various literature review methods in my upcoming blogs. I welcome your feedback and comments.

[1]https://abdc.edu.au/research/abdc-journal-list/ (assessed on December  28, 2019 )

https://charteredabs.org/academic-journal-guide-2018-view/ (assessed on December 28, 2019)