Perhaps I am naive, but I am looking forward to writing a literature review. My current area of interest is examining the domains of intelligence learners develop when making. Specifically, the process of electronic three dimensional design and construction woven with ‘traditional’ core content is what I want to explore further. Therefore, I’ll be tasked with reading, learning, knowing, and critiquing literature on how my favorite educational technologies can improve my standard units. It will be fun!

However, upon reading the article Scholars Before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research Preparation, the word ‘daunting’ comes to mind. The authors, Boote and Beile, take issue with the current state of literature reviews. The “theoretical shortcomings”, “failure to link findings to literature”, and the perceived but false hoop-jump status of the task were some of their particular frustrations.

Boote and Beile place some of this blame on the way graduate students are taught about literature reviews, suggesting that Creswell’s criteria of a literature review “to present results of similar studies, to relate the present study to the ongoing dialogue in the literature, and to provide a framework for comparing the results of a study with other studies” is an insufficient descriptor. While the content is correct, many students do not understand the vast details embedded in this criteria, and therefore cannot be blamed for their ignorance. Boote and Beile then move to explain all the possible details, not for the purpose of guiding students, but to guide those who teach and evaluate literature reviews.

I will end up using their article as a guide regardless. I find the idea of connection of the literature to the research methodology to be the main point of the article, and then the article provides instructions on how to create and preserve that connection. Specifically, I would consider their rubric for literature review quality.

When I consider the aspect of the reader, I am quite thankful for Boote and Beile’s work. As a teacher, i can relate; I provide my students with the rubrics, grade schemes, and exemplars when I introduce a project. I want them to understand the method their instructor will be using when judging their work. When I become the researcher, it will provide me with detailed considerations when writing my literature review.

When I consider the aspect of the researcher, I now feel much more comfortable with the “higher” education community. As the original researchers, Boote and Beile demonstrated how the scholarly community will hold institutions, instructors, and students accountable for the quality of their work while¬†it is not necessarily the responsibility to do so. When I become the researcher in my own project, the notion that my work will be available to all out in the vast ether of scholarly articles pushes me to hold myself to a higher standard.

However, since completing my assignment on Action Research, I have noticed a problem.

When I consider the aspect of research, specifically the research methodology, conflict can arise between what a literature review ‘must be’ while still being linked to the findings. Consider a hypothetical research project an individual may conduct with the action research methodology. Action research postulates that upon one cycle of data collection, a researcher may find that the analysis of that data has taken them to a completely unexpected realm not at all discussed in their literature. While this is specific to action research, what if the question is rephrased in more general terms: How can a literature review, meant to show the direction of the research, maintain a link to the findings of research when the analysis of the data may lead to something unexpected? This is not deficiency in the literature review unless of course, a negative result to the research is considered ‘wrong’. But how could that be, if the literature review guided the method of the data analysis? Boote and Beile argue that a literature review can permeate all parts of research and is not limited to the ‘chapter two’ compartment. But then, how does the researcher first become a scholar (by creating a proper review) if their review is not set prior to the findings? I am confused by the seemingly linear process they are implying.

This also leads to my next problem.

When considering the aspect of the researched, I am somewhat confused as to what is actually being researched. I think the distinction between the dissertations themselves and their authors is very important. I find Boote and Beile’s tone in the article rather scolding, as if both the graduate students and their instructors need a tune up. However, they are not (or I believe they should not be) the ‘researched’ focus of the article. While the reviews are obviously the flow of knowledge from the authors, I am surprised that Boote and Beile did not question how their findings were not subject to a contextual check; as per my preceding paragraph, what if the deficiencies their findings suggest are not applicable due to the methodology of the research in the first place? What is really being researched…is it the score of each literature review against the rubric, without context?

One last set of questions I am left to consider as action research has really broken me. If a researcher must first become a scholar, what objective criterion need to be met to be a scholar? Does a scholar write a literature review that scores perfect on the rubric, thereby validating their continuance to their research? Or does a scholar write a literature review that will inform their praxis above all else and throw the rubric the wind? This seems like a new version of the old quantitative vs qualitative argument…

Link to Article: Scholars Before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research Preparation