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Chris McMillan

This morning • What is a literature review? • How do I structure a literature review? • How do I write a literature review?

Back to basics 

There is an issue – a research problem

Researchers are debating this issue

Your role is to critique this literature and identify a gap in that research that justifies your research

The Literature Review 

Develop a research methodology to investigate that question

Analyse the results of your research to find an intervention into the research debate

Literature reviews… • Provide a clear, critical and balanced account of the literature on a particular topic

• Identify the limitations in the research literature • Provide a rationale and a context for your project • Tell the story that leads to your project

A literature review is NOT… • An exhaustive bibliography • A repetition of what each article reported • A group of unconnected critical evaluations • A selection of quotes, summaries and abstracts – the sources must be discussed by you

Structuring your review 1.



Establish the context for the debate and structure of your review

Introduce main themes or developments Identify limitations and gaps in the literature and consider research in similar areas


Narrow down into research most like your own


Justify your research project

The funnel metaphor Context Research history


Your project/aims

Significant research has shown that…

As a response, a number of studies…

Yet, this research did not consider…

Initial theorists argued…

Conversely, this research has come from a predominately… Similar research has suggested…

As a consequence, in this research…

1.Establishing Context (p.215) Much of the discussion surrounding graduate employability focuses on the skills and

competencies that employers consider desirable in their graduate recruits, sometimes referred to as ‘generic’ or ‘transferable’ employability skills (Bridgstock, 2009, cited in James, 2012). These include self-management, teamworking, communication, and the ability to work under pressure (Lowden, Hall, Elliot, & Lewin, 2011). Researchers have highlighted the need for further empirical investigation of these skills and competencies as possible predictors of employability (Wittekind, Raeder, & Grote, 2010). Other researchers (Dacre Pool & Sewell, 2007; Jaeger, 2003; Liptak, 2005; Repetto Talavera & Pérez-González, 2007; Vandervoort, 2006) have argued that emotional competence should also be studied as this may have a direct or indirect impact (via the generic skills mentioned above) on graduate employability.

Establishing the context 

Identify the academic context for your research

Research does not need to be presented in considerable detail, but multiple references need to be provided

Use phrases like ‘A significant range of research…’

2.Developing Themes (p.215) Emotional intelligence (EI) The construct of EI provides a scientific framework for the study of emotional

competence (Mikolajczak, Petrides, Coumans, & Luminet, 2009). It has been conceptualised as an emotion-related cognitive ability (Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2002) comprising a set of four emotion-related skills that include the ability to perceive, use, understand, and manage emotion (the four branch model). EI has also been defined as a constellation of emotional selfperceptions located at the lower levels of personality hierarchies (Petrides, Pita, & Kokkinaki, 2007). These two distinct perspectives are usually referred to as ‘ability EI’ and ‘trait EI’, respectively, with meta-analytical studies finding a weak correlation between the two (Van Rooy, Viswesvaran, & Pluta, 2005).

3.Demonstrating Limitations (p.215) However, whether or not people feel confident about, or motivated to use, their emotional knowledge and skills has received little empirical investigation.

Emotional self-efficacy

One research area that helps address this issue is that of emotional self—efficacy

(ESE). ESE has been suggested as an appropriate alternative label for trait EI (Petrides & Furnham, 2001; Petrides, Pérez-González, & Furnham, 2007). However, Kirk, Schutte, and Hine (2008, Kirk, Schutte, and Hine 2011) argue that although ESE may be an aspect of trait EI, the two are not identical. In support of this argument, recent studies have found only small to medium correlations between ESE subscales and trait EI subscales, as measured by the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (Petrides & Furnham, 2006) of between 0.15 and 0.62 (Dacre Pool & Qualter, 2012b).

Being critical 

Academic research is unlikely to be fundamentally flawed, but it is always limited

Your task is to demonstrate why the research literature does not effectively answer your research question

Researchers may use methods with limited application, consider different populations or use alternative theoretical assumptions

Alternatively, you may identify a lack of support or evidence for the ideas being presented

Use phrases like ‘limited’, ‘problematic’ or ‘little empirical support’ and only describe what is necessary for the reader to know

4.Narrowing Down (p.216) Career satisfaction Career satisfaction is not to be confused with job satisfaction, which is purely concerned with the current role; instead, it relates to an individual’s satisfaction with the accumulation of their career-related experiences (Rothwell & Arnold, 2007). For graduates, having invested a good deal of time, hard work, and for many, expense in gaining their qualifications, the attainment of a satisfying career is likely to be of great importance to them (e.g., Purcell, Elias, Davies, & Wilton, 2005). Research indicates that employability and career satisfaction are related concepts (De Vos & Soens, 2008; Rothwell & Arnold, 2007). However, this previous research has been carried out with broad population samples and may not generalise to working graduates.

5. Justifying your research (p.216) Associations among the three concepts So, by which mechanisms might ESE, graduate employability, and career satisfaction be associated? It would make sense that people who are confident in their ability to manage their emotions effectively also perform these

behaviours, and as such enjoy better interpersonal relationships than those who are not; ESE is likely to help with employability issues, such as developing and maintaining networks, and being ‘kept in the know’ concerning possible opportunities. The current research aims to investigate whether ESE predicts self-perceived graduate employability.

Yes, but how do I actually write it? YOU need to control the information and how it is presented, and thus avoid the trap of merely summarising. How do you do this?


Good topic sentences In a literature review, specifically, a good topic sentence will… • Draw connections between multiple sources • Draw connections between published research and your research • Contextualise the research broadly in relation to multiple sources • In short, it will say something about what the sources do or contribute to the body of knowledge, rather than just what they’re about.

A good topic sentence is NOT • A statement about what an author or article says • A definition, quotation or statistic with no indication of why it matters to your work

• A summary of what an article was about

Compare A weak paragraph might begin‌ Theorists have tried to establish what employability means.

But a stronger paragraph might begin‌ Recent years have seen the emergence of models of graduate employability development (e.g., Dacre Pool & Sewell,2007; Knight & Yorke, 2004), and some measures of self-perceived employability are now available (e.g., Berntson & Marklund, 2007; Rothwell & Arnold, 2007).

Using topic sentences to create a structure Para 1: Graduate employability has been discussed for some time, but there have been difficulties with its definition and conceptual clarity (e.g., Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton,2012; Sewell & Dacre Pool, 2010). Para 2:One of the more widely accepted definitions (Yorke, 2006) suggests that it is, ‘[a] set of achievements—skills, understandings and personal attributes—that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy’ (p. 8) Para 3: Measuring graduate employability is particularly problematic with the full-time employment rates of graduates often used as easily measurable proxies for graduate employability (Bridgstock, 2009).

Establishing Connections 

We need to drive the reader around our argument by establishing and demonstrating the links between ideas

These links can be developed within paragraphs through signposts

Alternatively, links are established at the beginning and end of paragraphs


Globalisation has…



Yet,… Consequently

Adding on vs. Developing ‘Also…’ ‘Another study that…’ ‘Another example of…’ as opposed to… ‘This evidence suggests…’ ‘These examples indicate…’ ‘Similarly…’ ‘Though these studies are…’

Linking Ideas: Paragraphs Statement/Topic sentence Evidence or Examples

Explanations and Reasoning

Evaluation/Transition: So what?

Statement/Topic sentence Evidence or Examples

Explanations and Reasoning Evaluation/Transition Topic Sentence

Establishing Connections (p.216) It may be that having well-developed, job-specific and generic skills—both aspects of employability—gives graduates confidence in their ability to gain alternative employment, either within their current organisation or elsewhere if necessary. As such, they are more likely to take a proactive approach where career management is concerned, making positive changes before they become dissatisfied with their careers. Therefore, this research aims to investigate the relationship between graduate employability and career satisfaction. A further consideration is whether or not there is a direct relationship between ESE and career satisfaction. Confidence in one’s emotional competence could create a more general positive approach to life and work, which then leads to a more favourable assessment of the current career situation.

One way to write a great review‌

Read other literature reviews!

Four steps to a great review 1. Find relevant literature on your topic and follow trails of references 2. Identify key themes/ideas/stages in the approach to the topic – keep a notebook (or database) to keep adding to as you read 3. Cluster relevant points together, using subheadings (not too many) and signposting 4. Check you have provided sufficient context and justification for your research project

Summary • A literature review is not just a list of sources. It needs to summarise, synthesise and evaluate. • The review needs to be organised and structured appropriately. It is not just a collection of paragraphs! • The review must discuss different schools of thought and arguments and present a balanced picture of any debates. • It must ‘tell the story’ leading to your project and provide a rationale for it.

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Literature Review Checklist 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Does your review show a clear understanding of the topic? Have all key landmark works been cited and most discussed? Is there a suitable structure and logical development to the review? Does the review state clear conclusions about previous research using appropriate evidence? Is the text written in a clear style, free of spelling and grammatical errors with complete references? Does the review show the variety of definitions and approaches to the topic area? Does the review reach sound recommendations using coherent argument that is based on evidence? Does the review show a gap in existing knowledge?

Writing a literature review, spring 2014