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All you need to know about how to write a literature review

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Book Review by James Hartley

Onwuegbuzie, A.J. and Frels, R. (2016). Seven steps to a comprehensive literature review: a multi-modal and cultural approach, London: Sage

ISBN 978-1-4462-4898 (pbk) 424pp. £26.99

With over 400 pages, this book is a comprehensive and weighty tome. But who is it for? Possibly final year and PhD students, but it is really for full-time researchers assessing and reporting on the strengths and weaknesses of the whole of previous research in a particular field in order to advise others what to do (or not to do) next.

The text is divided into four sections, following a brief Introduction – Overview (4 chapters), Exploration (5 chapters), Integration (3 chapters), and Communication (2 chapters, plus 5 exemplars, general conclusions, and final thoughts).

The Overview (60 pages) covers the history and the methodology of several different types of literature review, including narrative, systematic, and combined. Exploration (150 pages) describes how to initiate a literature search, store and organise the results, determine the main findings, and expand the search into related areas. Integration (44 pages) considers how to pool the results from different approaches – qualitative, quantitative and mixed, and Communication (100 pages) outlines different ways of planning and writing the final document.

Each chapter within each of these main sections is filled – sometimes overfilled – with diagrams, charts, examples and summary checklists. We see how computer-based techniques and tools (described in detail) are essential for the modern reviewer, with copious (but possibly some dated) examples. With so much detail, different parts of this book will be more appropriate for different researchers at different stages than others. And not everyone will agree with all of the advice given. I found, for example, the advice to aim at a Flesch readability score of 30 and below for reports to be disconcerting. To my mind this should read 30 and above. Reviews need to be readable.

Seven Steps is generally readable and useful – but it is a door stopper.

SRHE Member James Hartley is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Keele University. He is the author of ‘Designing Instructional Text’ (3rd ed. 1994, Kogan Page) and ‘Academic Writing and Publishing’ (Routledge, 2008). 

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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