The Descriptive Literature Review Process Made Easy

In this video I will go through the process
I teach my undergraduate students for constructing their first descriptive literature review.
The process works for other types of reviews as well, but will need to be more in depth
and systematic at the graduate level. Please note that expectations for a descriptive literature
review may be different where you are going to school so please check with your teacher
regarding any expectations. Also, if you plan to publish your review, the formula that I
give you will need to be adjusted. You will still want to follow the general steps, but
again they will need to be done in more depth, systematically executed and documented. You
may want to search for a published process and follow it. For any review, staying organized
is important. This process will help you stay organized.
Even if you are asked to do a descriptive literature review that is similar to the one
in this video it is important that you know the assignment criteria within your course.
These criteria are often developed for reasons that are targeted to your current skill level
as well as course objectives. Take the time to read whatever instructions you are given
and ask your teacher to clarify anything that you aren’t sure of before you get started.
Once you have a clear picture of the assignment expectations, take some time to get to know
the literature before you commit to a topic. Think of it like dating. You don’t want to
marry the first person you show an interest in without knowing more about them. You will
probably even want to see what it is like to kiss them, Right? (Kiss sound)
Likewise, before you commit to a literature review topic, take a moment to browse the
databases to see what is out there that may be of interest to you. Do a rough check to
see if you can easily find enough literature on the topic that meets your assignment criteria.
If you are having a hard time now, try something else. Don’t get stuck trying to do a literature
review on a topic with no literature. Once you have a feel for a few topics, pick
something that keeps you up at night. You want to be interested in your topic since
literature reviews take a lot of time and often evolve into other projects. Who knows,
you might use your literature review as the basis for a research proposal, Masters application
or to inform your clinical practice. One thing that is very important is targeting
your review. It needs to be narrow enough that you will have a common focus across all
the studies, but broad enough that there is literature to discuss.
The most common problems my students have seems to be that they come in with either
so much literature that is not at all related or they can’t find anything.
All of your literature should be specific to one concept that is explicit within each
article. In my class, you also need to focus on one patient-centered illness or issue.
The combination of these two things gives you the overall topic and title of your review.
For example, you could choose to examine the quality of life of patients suffering from
mental illness. Now that you know what your topic is, return
to the databases and search for literature that fits all the criteria you have for your
literature review. It is good to keep a checklist handy so you don’t waste time looking at a
study you can’t use. Don’t read the entire article — skip to the sections you need — like
the publication information, purpose, design, sample and main findings to see if your article
will fit with your review. For example, if you are limited to literature published within
the last 10 years: Why would you read an article that is older? If you can’t use a mixed methods
study in your review: Why would you waste your time reading one? Having a checklist
with clear inclusion and exclusion criteria for your review will save you a lot of time.
Once you have identified your literature, you need to group it into “piles” to talk
about. Find out how many topics or piles of literature need to be discussed within your
main focus. There are many ways to divide up your studies for discussion. First examine
the purposes of your studies. If you notice that you have a number of similar purpose
statements, you have likely identified a pile. Then look at the paradigm and designs of each
study. It is easiest to synthesize a pile if the paradigm and designs are consistent.
If you have too many studies with a common purpose you may even want to divide the pile
by design. You may have one qualitative pile that relates to the perceptions of your topic
and another quantitative pile that measures it.
If that doesn’t help you may want to divide your literature by the sample type. Often
students will talk about the patient, family and nurse perspectives on an issue.
In any pile you want to have some common findings to talk about when you come to synthesize
the literature. Make sure your piles make sense before you start to write your review.
Also, check to see if there is a minimum number of articles that you can include in a pile.
I don’t allow my students to call two similar articles a pile — they need at least three.
You may find that you need to return to the literature after you have identified your
piles to find more literature that fits the piles you have just identified. Often finding
the literature is the hardest part of this entire process.
An example of how to table articles was given in a previous video. Below this video you
will also find a link to the tabled articles from an in-class activity.
Tabling your literature is an important step that you should not skip. Your literature
review is essentially your tables in an essay format. Make sure that you consistently put
all the information you will need from your articles into the table (in the same order)
so you can easily write your review. For instance, the tables in this example are missing the
type of sampling used as well as some detail about the study design. If you need that in
your review you would want to include it in the table so you don’t need to go back to
all your articles while you are writing. It is handy to develop a guide for yourself that
outlines all the required information. There is a link to an example below this video.
Again, remember that it may need to be modified. Next, follow the formula and put your descriptive
literature review into writing. Organize your tables by piles. Then use your tables, one
pile at a time, to put your review into writing. Make sure you follow each step in the formula
in order. An example of an undergraduate level descriptive
literature review is provided at the link below this video. The review at the link below
this video was written by me in a little over three hours – after I had completed the tables.
I am not saying that you can complete a literature review in three hours, especially if it is
your first time putting one together. However, this example does illustrate how critical
it is to have your tables completed properly. Finding the information and editing the tables
for the review was what took me the longest. Please Don’t let your teacher be the first
person to read your paper. Make sure you read it over and get someone else to read it so
you can catch simple mistakes like missing words. Also, remember to check for proper
formatting, which in my program is APA format. A lot of marks can be lost for simple mistakes.
Getting someone else to read your paper over critically could be the difference between
a B or an A. Remember, however, that you are still responsible for how you respond to that
criticism. Don’t just do what they say — think about the suggested changes.
You may wish to visit the links below or one of the related videos for more information.
My eBook is also available for purchase online if you are having a hard time with the language
of research. You can take a sneak preview through Google books. You may also want to
check out some of my research or APA videos for more information. Happy DLRing!

4 Replies to “The Descriptive Literature Review Process Made Easy

  1. This is a very nice and clear description of a method to create a lit review! I wish I'd seen this last year as I struggled through this process. I do have questions associated with the transfer from table to review. At 6:44 – 6:47 you mention going through the tables, one pile at a time, and using a formula. And, another edit, I found my answers in your very nice summary of the activity:  Wow, this is a great activity to work through as an example. Thanks again!

  2. Good EveningWorking on a research paper on parent involvement. How to get them more involved? What is a good area of research. Thanks

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