A good place to begin a review of the literature is to locate a recent review in the area of general interest to you.
Click on the Library icon within the online campus to get into the EBSCO Databases; in the first blank search box ask for a topic that interests you; in the second blank search box ask for a literature review. Then click on search.
Look over the resulting list, choose the most likely looking article, access the ‘Full Text’, and read the literature review.
Now you must read the articles you have found. To improve your critical reading skills, see our articles about thinking critically.
This is one step beyond analysis. Critical thinking does not necessarily mean being critical in the sense of disapproval, but weighing evidence, looking at arguments in an evaluative way, and making judgements about them.
Cottrell (2008) suggests it is helpful to develop a detective-like mind when attempting any form of critical analysis, whether this is reading, writing or listening.
Almost every academic activity begins with some form of analysis (that is, thinking about something). Analysis helps makes clear what you are trying to tackle. Analysis means taking things apart to see what the components are and how they fit. You should question the information, your research findings and theories that you include in your essay. You should not just accept the information or argument of the authors you read; you need to question why they say what they say constantly.
Asking why requires an answer. This involves comparing alternative views proposed by the authors you read. If you do this, you are doing analysis. The conclusion you come to, the view you take, is your opinion. However, you do all this by using supporting evidence that you gather in the research stage. All well-argued essays are able to support their argument with evidence; this is the difference between biased opinion and informed opinion.
Critical thinking is an essential skill; one that applies to all facets of life. It allows you think rationally and connects ideas. You question ideas and assumptions rather than take them at face value. Critical thinking transforms you from a passive receiver of information to an active learner. With enough practice, you will even be able to use this skill in stressful situations.
If your literature review is to be useful to any reader, it should highlight areas of interest in the literature, prospective gaps in the literature and research, flaws in the reasoning of an article and research carried out. Also, it should point out the threads throughout history and the current trends in research related to the subject under investigation. This means that while reading articles, thesis and books it is important to keep these goals in the back of your mind and make notes accordingly.