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Writing a review of literature article summaryThe Article Summary: The Basic Building Block of the Literature Review in Dissertations and Theses (Part 1 in the Literature Review Series).

 

 

The purpose of a literature review

The purpose of a literature review, in general, is to provide a context for the importance and meaning of a dissertation or thesis. It is a relevant history of what precedes the student’s own research and shows the reader how that past research informs the problem the student is attempting to figure out. According to Creswell (2003), the literature review may also uncover gaps in previous research, show where previous studies can be extended, provide criteria against which the student’s study may be evaluated, and connect the study to a larger academic dialogue.

In order to achieve these goals, the dissertation or thesis writer must employ a variety of skills. One of the most basic and important skills is the ability to write the article summary, for it is the article summary which arguably constitutes the bulk of a literature review. An understanding of how to write a review of literature must include an understanding of how to write an article summary. Of course, writing a literature review requires other skills, such as the ability to make generalizations from summaries, compare and contrast findings, or write transitions from once section to another, but the bulk of what students do when the write a literature review is summarize.With that in mind, let’s examine five components of the summary.

Five important pieces

  • The researcher(s). Briefly note the researchers with appropriate citation.
  • The subjects and their characteristics. Explain who the subjects are and describe their relevant characteristics (the number, setting, ethnicity, and gender – whatever are provided by the author(s)).
  • The topic and purpose of the study. Explain the point of the study. Additional information may include method of analysis, hypotheses, and relevance to the broader context of society or academia.
  • The findings. Describe the overall results. Keep it to the main findings and avoid cataloging all the gritty statistical details.
  • Conclusion from findings. Paraphrase what the researcher(s) conclude from their findings. Avoid the trap of making the conclusion appear like statements of fact or that it is your opinion. This can be done by referring back to the authors and with phrase like “Based on these results, the researchers believe…,” “According to the researchers…

Below are the five components put into action. The following is a summary of an article about the public’s willingness to spend money on wildlife species based on their likeability and level of endangerment.

 1.Who are the researchers?

Tisdell, Nantha, and Wilson (2007)

 2. Who are the subjects, the number, and what is the setting?

They sampled 204 individuals with different socio-economic characteristics from the urban public in Brisbane, Australia.

3. What is the topic and purpose of the study? In addition to topic and purpose, hypotheses and methods of research might be included.

The purpose of the study was to examine the relative importance of the likeability of a species and level endangerment as factors influencing public willingness to financially contribute to the conservation of that species.

4. What were the findings (in this case, I also mention the method of collecting data)?

Using surveys, the researchers asked participants to rank the likeability of a number of species as well as the amount of funds, out of a hypothetical thousand dollars, they would allocate toward the conservation of those species. Between surveys, participants were informed of each species’ level of endangerment. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between degree of endangerment and monetary allocation were positive and large for all classes of animals, while the coefficients between degree of likability and monetary allocation were comparatively lower except for reptiles.

5. What do the authors conclude from their findings or how do they explain their findings?

The authors conclude that the likeability of a species is not as important an influence as awareness of that species endangerment and that as a particular animal population declines and it endangerment threat increases, public willingness to provide conservation funds should also increase.

Putting it all together: The final version of the summary found in a review of literature

A review of literature will contain many summaries like the one below, which is contains all five elements. This paritcular article summary might be followed up by a conclusion, transition, or link to a similar study.

Tisdell, Nantha, and Wilson (2007) sampled 204 individuals with different socio-economic characteristics from the urban public in Brisbane, Australia. Using surveys, the researchers asked participants to rank the likeability of a number of species as well as the amount of funds, out of a hypothetical thousand dollars, they would allocate toward the conservation of those species. Between surveys, participants were informed of each species’ level of endangerment. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between degree of endangerment and monetary allocation were positive and large for all classes of animals, while the coefficients between degree of likability and monetary allocation were comparatively lower except for reptiles. The authors conclude that the likeability of a species is not as important an influence as awareness of its endangerment and that the as a particular animal population declines and it endangerment threat increases, public willingness to provide conservation funds should also increase.

Other practical considerations

1. Zooming in on the tangential

Often researchers will propose and test several related hypotheses, some of which are less pertinent to the dissertation or thesis topic the student is writing about. For example, if the student is writing about the importance of e-mail communication in the work setting and an article they are quoting discusses face-to-face communication in addition to forms of virtual communication, the student may only want to focus on the part of the article that concerns virtual communication. Also, a tangential finding or consideration from the perspective of the author of the source article may be of far more importance to the student’s research topic than the actual main findings from the source article. It really depends on the particular subsection of the review of literature and what specific topic is being discussed.

2. Vary the style and amount of material you summarize

I would not recommend following the above suggestions for an article summary for every article for a literature review in a dissertation or thesis. By changing the content and style of the summary, you can provide variation so that the review of literature does not become a catalogue or read like a series of abstracts. Some articles you may want to go into more depth. Others you may want to only briefly summarize, focusing on the main findings. The student might add additional information about methods used or definitions of central constructs, or they might not report the interpretation of the findings. There is usually a lot to choose from an article. The five components function together as a guideline.

3. The article summary is only one tool

Remember, summarizing is only one aspect of a literature review. The student must be able to synthesize research, critically evaluate, compare and contrast, and link the relevant articles to their own dissertation or thesis topic. As Cone and Foster (1996) remark, “Novice literature reviewers often provide excessive description coupled with inadequate critical analysis” (p. 112). However important, the article summary is a building block, one that an author shouldn’t rely on too much. A pile of bricks does not a house make.

Reference

Cone, J.D., & Foster, S. L. (1996). Dissertations and theses from start to finish: Psychology
       and related fields
. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods
       approaches
(2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Tisdell,C., Nantha, H. S., & Wilson, C. (2006). Endangerment of wildlife speices: How
       important are they for payments proposed for conservation? Ecological Economics, 60(3)
       627-633 doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2006.01.007