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BRAE 128 - Careers in BioResource and Agricultural Engineering

Understanding Literature Reviews

What are Literature Reviews?
In Literature Review and Research Design : A Guide to Effective Research Practice, author David Harris identifies three basic types of literature review that appear in scholarly writing (p. 139):
  • Summary Overview: "surveys different ideas found in some body of literature on a given subject. Reviews and summarizes what has been published by others on a subject without aspiring to provide any novel analytical insight."
    • Example: Textbooks, traditional review articles
  • Research Background: “provides background for a specific study by discussing the ideas that helped define the research questions. Its purpose is to explain the intellectual sources that inform a specific research project”. 
    • Examples: Dissertations, theses and empirical studies (i.e. most research articles). 
  • Research Study:  “formal and methodical analysis of a body of literature that is an empirical research study in its own right."
    • Examples: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses

Adapted from Harris, David J. Literature Review and Research Design : A Guide to Effective Research Practice . 1st edition, Routledge, 2019

Literature Reviews in Action

Here's a real world example of what your literature review can accomplish. Let's say you want to prepare a research paper that can be published in one of the journals of the ASABE (a prominent association in your discipline).  Which of their criteria for selecting a manuscript for publication depend on a review of the literature?

Here's an excerpt from the guidance they give reviewers, to help them determine whether an article should be published:

"To be published in Transactions of the ASABE the manuscript must meet all of the following requirements:

  • The material represents original, important contributions to research or design literature of interest to the Society.
  • It clearly represents the design or development of technology, or research into problems of direct interest to the profession.
  • The manuscript must clearly state the scope and purpose. The information must be objective and well organized, and the conclusions must be adequately supported.

Along with the requirements stated above, the manuscript should also contain at least one of the following elements:

  • Original data, analysis or design, or synthesis of existing information.
  • Research information for the improvement of design, construction, or manufacturing practice.
  • Significant and convincing evidence that confirms and strengthens the findings of others, and revises ideas or challenges accepted theory.
  • A critical review of research or design information of comprehensive and well-defined scope."