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Literature Search and Analysis


In the written proposal, the analysis of the searched literature appears after the statement of the problem; however, in reality the researcher does it before completely formulating the research question. The typical sequence is to start with a rather general theme, which focuses into a more specific subject, after performing the critical and integrative analysis of the literature.

The systematic review of the literature includes search by themes and keywords in databases of peer-reviewed publications. The aim of the search is to be sufficiently sensitive to detect relevant articles to the research question, and sufficiently specific to discard non-relevant ones. After critically analyzing the abstracts, select original articles to perform a thorough scientific scrutiny of design, execution, reporting and interpretation. Depending on the type of publication or study design, stress different factors. In particular, assess the methods of subject selection, power and size of samples, randomization, control groups, blinding, materials and techniques, instruments, outcome measures, follow-up, statistical analysis, results and interpretation. Tables are prepared to facilitate the comparison of different publications.

The searcher organizes the tables according to topic and/or chronological order. Each table should have a title and a number; the title emphasizes the main subject matter that the searcher compares in the particular table. The purpose is to highlight the characteristics related among the different studies. The first column usually presents the author and year of publication; it may include an abbreviation of the name of the journal. The other columns present the criteria of comparison. The searcher derives heading titles from the keywords, study variables and actual measurements, usually presented in the materials and methods section of the different articles. He/she also summarizes the results, statistical considerations and conclusions in separate columns, with the appropriate headings. Frequently the researcher needs more than one page per table in order to present the summary in a clear manner; the idea is to simplify the comparisons.

At this stage, the writer must give evidence of his own competence. He or she should emphasize differences and similarities of results among studies; in particular, evaluating the validity of the claimed findings, and formulating a short conclusion(s).

After the literature review (also including meta-analyses, systematic reviews, text references, thesis publications and direct consultations with experts in the field), the proposer refines the statement of the problem. Furthermore, based on the critical analysis of this review, derives the aims and hypotheses (if applicable for the proposal). These constitute the actual guide through all the subsequent aspects of the research.



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