A thorough literature review is an essential part of a research paper. It gives an overview of the research performed on the topic. The literature review can sometimes be a separate part of the paper or it can be included within the introduction of the paper. In both cases, the literature review must not only describe the existing research in the field, but also critically analyze it. The primary aim of the literature review section is to provide context and explain the relevance of your research question. It also highlights the novelty and importance of your research, which is key to getting published.
The literature review process can be considered as a series of steps:
1. Deciding a research topic
Develop a clear idea of what you want to research. This will help you choose the right sources for your literature search as well. If you do not have a research question as yet, that is fine. You can develop a more refined idea of your research topic after your literature review. At this step, it is enough to have an idea.
2. Gathering the literature
This is the second most important part of the literature review. Create a strategy to search for relevant literature on the topic. List out some keywords and choose which databases you want to search. Remember, literature is not limited to only journal articles and books. As mechanical engineers, there will be many interesting discoveries that you will be able to find in other sources, such as patents, government and company research reports, and trade magazines. Do not forget to include those sources.
3. Evaluating and analyzing the literature
In this step, you will read through the research you have gathered and find the information that is relevant to your research project. It is essential to use a good citation manager during this part of the process. That will not only help you write your literature review later but will also help you find information quickly during your project. If you have planned to do an analysis of the data, as in the case of a systematic review, this is the correct step at which to do so.
4. Writing the literature review
How you write the literature review depends on its purpose. Is it a part of a research article or dissertation? Or is it for a review paper? In the next section we will discuss in detail the different types of reviews, as well as the best approaches to handle both.
Research article or dissertation