Every scientific or technical paper should contain a literature review, since a literature review makes a positive contribution to the solution of the problem. As part of the paper, written to communicate the solution of the problem, a literature review provides the researchers with guidelines for the research, while at the same time it lends credibility to the work done.
There are at least twelve good reasons - and probably many more - why a literature review should appear in a scientific or technical paper:
- To communicate what has been done and what has not been done in the field of interest;
- If the work has been done, how it was done, and the validity of the outcomes of the work;
- If the work has never been done, the reasons why it has never been done (e.g. impossible, lack of funding, undeveloped technologies, etc.);
- The literature review expands and hones the researcher’s knowledge and understanding of the field in which the research is to be done;
- The literature review can be used to plan the research, focus it, and determine which research methods will be viable, and which unviable;
- Writing up the literature survey gives the researcher an opportunity to organise his/her thoughts about the research, and including it in the final paper helps the reader to understand why the research was undertaken;
- The literature review can be used to convey to the reader exactly what is to be undertaken in the project, with its findings providing the appropriate justifications and framework for the planned research;
- A good literature review will add authoritative backing to the research;
- Without guidelines provided by the literature review, researchers may drift toward preconceived conclusions;
- A literature review will help to dispel preconceived ideas and perceptions, widely held opinions, or myths;
- A literature review will often provide case studies that can be used to either guide or support findings;
- The literature survey indicates to the reader that the author or authors are well informed on the research topic, which will lend credence to their research and conclusions.
Every literature review should contain some or all of the following, not necessarily in the order given here:
- Problem identification;
- Broad description of papers or work that has been done on this or similar problems. This is an introductory “survey of the scene as a whole”, to help the reader understand exactly what the author or authors are aiming to do, and it should only be written once the literature review is almost complete;
- Specific references to relevant papers and comment on their contents that proved to be of assistance to the research;
- Collation of all ideas expressed by the authors of the selected papers considered to be relevant to the problem;
- Selection of idea/methodology that shows the greatest potential to help resolve the problem;
- If a method exists, then the framework for solving the problem at hand is automatically outlined, and should be set out in some detail in the literature review with appropriate references to the research work in which the methodology had been previously employed;
- If no method exists, then select, giving reasons, one or more methodologies that may be applicable to the problem, and then use these to develop a framework for the proposed project;
- Conclude with a brief description of the project design and methodology derived from the literature review.
Although not the purpose of a literature review, it can be critical of work that has already been done and communicated, and it can be used to identify and discuss areas of controversy. In summary, the ultimate goal of a literature review is to identify areas that need further research.