Author: Luis-Miguel Romero – Translation: Erika-Lucia Gonzalez-Carrion

More than 4 years ago, at the dawn of this blog of the School of Authors of the Comunicar Magazine, we had already advanced in the post “Read: the first task” that one of the most frequent errors prior to the research process was the lack of reading other research related to the object of study. This “lack” can manifest itself in two ways: 1. Due to insufficient references and, 2. Due to discrimination of documents.

The first case occurs when a researcher does not carry out an adequate, extensive and sufficient search for scientific documents, or simply settles for a few materials (sometimes out of date and out of context) to support his research. The second case, even more common, occurs when the search for scientific documents is done only using search engines (such as Google, Google Scholar or Bing), or local and regional repositories and databases, even with search terms. only in Spanish.

In this order of ideas, to carry out a literature review correctly, the researcher must first know its subject, be an interested reader of it, know its references, its historical background, its main representatives and references and, of course, the top journals of the area.

Secondly, the researcher must know the most suitable, pertinent and used search terms (in English, the lingua franca of the research) to refer to the topic they want to search for. For example, it is common to find new researchers who search the databases with keywords that have nothing to do with their subject, but which are literal translations of the term in Spanish.

With the precise search terms, the researcher must know how searches are made in international reference databases (Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed …) and the discrimination criteria (by year, subject, type of document) and boolean algorithms. This will allow us to review emerging research, read their summaries, and map the state of the matter.

This “mapping” of the scientific literature will allow us to discover the various epistemological positions and debates that the object of research has had over time, the disciplines from which the subject has been treated, the most common types, designs and scope of research that They have been used to investigate it and the latest trends. It is here, after completing this exercise that a researcher might be ready to carry out the research approach.

Writing the literature review

The literature review can be called in different ways: state of the art, state of the question, research background …, but they all mean the same thing in practice: explaining to the reader the subject, its implications, its scientific discussions and, especially, the most significant advances.

The literature review is the theoretical foundation of the research, which will allow us to support the results obtained and discuss coincidences and / or disagreements in the discussion section, but above all, to demonstrate that the research proposed is an effective scientific contribution, that is, that contributes new elements to understand and interpret a reality.

Although there are topics that may be very local or regional (such as studies on flamenco, or Inca architecture), most of the subjects in the Social Sciences tend to be of global interest. In this sense, a good writing of the literature is based on three pillars: suitability, topicality, referentiality and sufficiency.

  1. Suitability: This is the relevance and relationship of the studies cited with the research objectives. If a study seeks to analyze the impact that the use of gamification has on adolescents in special education and the literature review only talks about concepts, characteristics and importance of gamification, it will not be possible, obtained the results, to generate a discussion of height to advance on the background of the investigation.
  2. Actuality: Not all sciences and disciplines advance at the same rate, so the concept of “actuality” will depend on each of them. To cite an example, if we have an investigation that seeks to analyze the influence of youtubers of the haul genre on the decision to buy or consume cosmetic products, most of the studies that make up the corpus of the state of affairs must be current, that is to say, maximum of the last 5 years. If, on the contrary, we find that the majority of the literature review is from the marketing classics of the 1980-1990 decade (Kottler, Armstrong, Dvoskin …), the study will be based on historical references, but not on the progress of the discipline.
  3. Referentiality: This point is of special relevance, since the universe of search engines, repositories and databases are full of non-scientific documents, so we must learn to discriminate. If we base an investigation on references of Final Degree Projects (undergraduate thesis), Final Master’s Projects (master’s thesis), student documents, teaching documents, manuals, blogs, local magazines, among others, the work will lack scientific support, to the extent that most of these documents do not go through a thorough review process. In this sense, most of the corpus of references in an article must be articles published in journals of recognized prestige and impact, which are usually -although not in all cases- indexed in the Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus.
  4. Sufficiency: The sufficiency parameter is referred to the breadth of the literature review. It is estimated that for an empirical research article in Social Sciences, a sufficient literature review would cover between 35 and 40 references, which increases if it is a study (grounded theory, state of the art, etc.).
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