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Have you ever been on a project or problem solving team that was performing well when all of a sudden a new member was added to the team?
When a researcher decides to conduct research to contribute to the body of knowledge they are joining a dialogue that is already in progress. The literature review is a thorough discussion of the key contributions to the topic body of knowledge.
The literature review ideally includes both recent contributions and classic or foundational contributions. One BIG mistake that many researchers make is to start writing the lit review before they are ready. Create an outline of the lit review and let your mentor (dissertation chair) review it as you start to collect and analyze the literature. Dig deep into the “peer-reviewed” literature for each concept, variable, and relationship and create an annotated bibliography. Then you can use tables (I use excel for this) to create matrices in order to analyze the various findings. If you send your committee chair each component as you complete it, your chair can give you feedback along the way.
Based on the literature review determine the current level of empirical knowledge on the topic. The literature review should provide a clear understanding of the level of empirical knowledge that currently exists.


The literature review should identify what we already know about the variables, relationships, and context identified in the research questions.
As with all the components of the research methodology the literature review should address the variables, relationships, context, and so forth identified in the conceptual framework. Once the literature review is complete the conceptual framework should be revised (as necessary) based on new insights gained from the analysis of the literature and previous research findings. This ongoing dialogue is documented in the research-based (peer reviewed) scholarly journals, dissertations, and research reports. In order to be comprehensive without being large enough to be a book, the literature review is compressed. The majority of the literature review should be recent contributions (last five years or so) to ensure that you are up to date on the most current state of the discussion and can determine the next “sentence” that needs to be added to move the dialogue along. In other words, it is not a position paper but rather an objective and critical review of all the key findings and contributions to that topic found in the research. The level of knowledge will drive two decisions – the applicability of hypotheses and the selection of an overall research approach.
My experiences are pretty consistent – the team went back to the storming phase of team development. To avoid causing storming in the ongoing discussion, a potential contributor to the discussion first needs to come “up to speed” on the current state of the discussion. In addition, the lit review also needs to include key classic contributions to make sure that you are building on the main findings of theoretical basis of the topic.
This critical review results in not only the findings from the literature but also a description of the strengths and limitations of the findings. First, develop an annotated bibliography and second develop a detailed outline including main points and supporting references. According to Tuckman, teams mature through four main phases of performance – forming, norming, storming, and performing (Gutknecht and Miller, 1986). This is accomplished through a thorough literature review which is documented in a comprehensive annotated bibliography.


One technique that many researchers use is to find some key current articles and then follow their trail by going to the articles in their reference list. Don’t be timid – you are expected to point out the limitations or your critical assessment of all sources including those that are famous!
The level of existing empirical knowledge will determine whether a hypothesis is appropriate.
These are natural stages but when a new member is added, the team is often thrown back to the forming stage.
A hypothesis is not a wild guess, but rather a logical conclusion based on the previous research findings identified here in the literature review.
Instead we go to the original source in order to draw our own conclusions and confirm or deny (critically review) their conclusions. Finally, the lit review should take the discussion to the next level and set the stage for the research. One explanation is that the new member doesn’t have the same knowledge and understanding of the problem, project, and where the team has been.
The alternative is to analyze many contributions and develop a synthesis of the many contributors and then list all the sources that agree or were contributors to the knowledge.
It does this by drawing conclusions from the discussion that clearly establish the basis for the research questions and if appropriate the hypotheses. The level of existing knowledge and the decision to include or not include hypotheses will drive the appropriate overall research approach. Bottom line – the literature review needs to present an integrated synthesis discussion vs.



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