How to Conduct a Literature Review: Essential Points to Remember as a Future Leader

The best research relies on critical analysis and thinking. After all, regardless of the subject area or domain you’re discussing, there’s likely to be a lot of opinions and statistics out there to break down. 

What’s more, if you’re producing an article or dissertation, you need to ensure your readers learn the facts and know that you’re not clouding your statements with bias or prejudice. Doing so could hamper the credibility of your work!

As a future business owner and leader, it’s a great idea to learn how to research and build a literature review to back up your arguments. While you might not be writing essays every day of your work, you can at least use some of the skills you gain during these reviews to help you become a better leader.

In this guide, we will look into what a literature review entails, how you can build one, and what some benefits are for budding business owners and leaders.

How to Conduct a Literature Review: Essential Points to Remember as a Future Leader

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a written report typically produced during studies. It’s a piece of writing that critically analyzes research into a specific topic you choose to write about on your own merits. A literature review, essentially, breaks down the key components of research, articles, and publications in a way that shows you understand and appreciate the facts they represent. Such reviews help to summarize existing work while also giving an insight into your own critical breakdown. 

For writers, a literature review is a good way to get familiar with research and to help break down some of its finer points. It’s why many students and researchers will use literature reviews as part of broader dissertations—they can provide grounding for arguments yet to be discussed.

However, literature reviewing is also a good exercise on its own. In some cases, readers and researchers might appreciate these reviews to give an overall impression of a specific topic or area that would usually require extensive research on its own. Therefore, whoever writes literature reviews isn’t doing so purely for their own benefit.

At the end of a literature review on a given topic, you’ll have a clearer idea of current discussions and research regarding your area of interest. From there, you can start to apply this knowledge in your work, or by exploring a potentially new research angle for your own paper(s).

Beyond the benefits of having written a literature review, there are a few skills you can develop throughout that will help you in your pursuits of becoming a leader. In fact, by studying programs such as Marymount University’s online Ed.D, you can start to develop organizational leadership skills both through written coursework and research. This course specifically helps you to develop a closer understanding of how modern leaders thrive, and you’ll pick up some useful literature review experience along the way. 

Why are literature reviews important to future leaders?

Gaining experience in writing literature reviews helps you to think critically—and the best leaders are those who inspire and manage talented people without leaning into bias or opinions. When writing and compiling a literature review, you learn how to look at the bigger picture. Over time, you develop the ability to dissect lots of different research and compile an overview that benefits both your readers and your broader project.

Literature review experience also helps you to practice reading comprehension. When leading a team or running an online business, attention to detail is a must. A slight misunderstanding could lead to miscommunications that affect the service you or your team deliver. Reviewing literature and research in an academic style helps you to build an appreciation for such details.

Beyond this, writing literature reviews helps you to build confidence. One of the key traits all good leaders and business owners should possess is confidence in decision-making—and literature reviewing can help you solidify your arguments and give you extra impetus to follow through on your ideas.

You’ll also find that compiling literature reviews helps you become a fairer and more balanced leader, too. By breaking down the details of the literature you intend to use for an essay, you take a more balanced viewpoint which can be useful when you’re leading projects or when you need to manage and resolve conflicts between staff.

In any case, while the links between literature review skills and leadership development might not seem too obvious at first, there are plenty of transferable traits you can take from essay research and argument building into leading teams and running businesses.

Techniques you can use to build effective literature reviews

Now we’ve covered the background in terms of why literature review skills are beneficial when learning how to become a leader in your own right, let’s consider a few ways you can start to build a literature review and what some of the best practices are.

Keep in mind that the steps below provide a general overview. The topics you cover and the literature you choose to review might vary. Therefore, consider this an introduction of sorts to the world of literature reviews. Remember to always ask for help from tutors and course leaders if you need additional support once you get started.

Once you get accustomed to academic writing and building various literature reviews, you’ll start to build toward a leadership skill set that you can put toward management and leadership further down the line. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about building literature reviews to break into leadership and management in the future.

Plan out your research

Every good literature review starts with a clear plan. While it is certainly possible to conduct research and read sources without a formal framework in place, it’s never a recommended practice. Follow the lead of academics of decades past—have a clear research topic in mind and be aware of how broad you want the scope to be.

For example, think carefully about the question you want to ask and which topics you intend to cover. Have a clear question or research topic in mind and narrow this down into a subject area that you can start exploring for journal articles, books, and critiques.

It’s also good practice to consider how many sources you want to cover. For broad topics and research areas, you might find there is an unlimited number of resources available—you need to be clear on your limits, but at the same time you shouldn’t restrict yourself for the sake of it.

Look carefully at the typical scope of similar research, or the type of studies you’d like to carry out yourself. What works for other writers might not always work for you, but getting inspiration from other researchers is typically beneficial.

Learning from others is key to leadership success. Some of the most confident leaders are always happy to follow their own experience. However, we all have to start somewhere. Being clear on your scope and what you want to explore also helps you to become a more transparent and supportive leader when working with employees.

Search for literature and citations and be selective

When searching for literature to review, it pays to be selective. Narrow down your search into niche keywords and topics if you want to explore a new idea or combine research from a lesser-explored topic. Try searching for date ranges, too, if you intend to explore modern concepts.

Be sure to keep accurate records, regardless of what you research and the types of writing you come across. Record the full information where possible so that you can encourage other readers to explore your suggested sources in their own time.

It’s beneficial to look at summaries and breakdowns of your chosen literature, too, so you can understand the key points of the studies more easily. Don’t be so quick to use the summaries you find as the basis for your own critical breakdowns—just use these to help inform your understanding. To expand the breadth of your research, you can also use bibliographies and source lists in the articles you’re reviewing to find other perspectives you might have missed.

Above all, it’s important to be selective. Look carefully at the relevance of the articles you wish to review, and that they all complement each other—for example, if they all consider the same subject area or a niche angle on a topic.

Being selective and discerning is important when learning about becoming a leader. Learning how to discern between sources of information will help you appreciate the importance of looking at the facts in the workplace. For example, instead of taking one employee’s word for how a project is progressing, you could take the time to research the facts and look objectively at the data available.

Read and critically summarize your sources

The most important part of any literature review is, of course, to read the literature in question. By this, we mean that you need to carefully read and understand your sources, avoiding skim reading and relying purely on summaries and breakdowns you find online. 

If you prefer, it might be beneficial to print a copy of any literature you wish to analyze. This way, you can highlight any passages you feel will be important to your overall understanding and summary when it comes to writing your final review.

When analyzing the literature, be careful to make notes that aren’t too descriptive about the topic at hand. These details could be arbitrary to your review—after all, you intend to review the literature and the stances taken on the topics, not the topics themselves.

While arranging your literature review, be meticulous with your structure. Organize your sources into different categories and think carefully about how you’d like to explore them and in what order. For example, does it make sense to explore the research in chronological order, or does it make more sense to start with a broader analysis and then lean into the more niche discussions as you progress through your review?

The way you lay out your review is entirely up to you. But it’s good practice, regardless of the topic, to consider your reader. If you were reading this review as a researcher, what would you want to know first, and what studies would help to bolster your understanding and appreciation along the way?

When summarizing your resources, avoid leaning into bias or making assumptions. This is good practice when leading people and projects, too. Again, the skills you’re learning and developing here help you to look objectively at the data you have to hand and therefore produce a fair analysis.

Don’t be afraid to explain your take

Although you should avoid letting your opinions cloud your critical thinking and analysis during your review, you should always make space to establish your take on the research you’ve read and written about. This ties in with our first point. What is it that you’d actually like to explore? What is it about the existing research that you want to embellish? 

In your review, you should ideally make it clear which points you find the most compelling and therefore most inspirational for your analysis. Think carefully about how you developed your own views and position during the course of your research, and make it clear to your reader where you stand, and why.

Doing so helps you to practice backing up your thoughts and ideas with objective evidence. This, again, is very important when leading people and when making important decisions running a team. Consider, for example, that you need to present a new idea to a team of board members. You will need solid evidence, not opinion and bias, to assure people that your ideas are worth getting behind.

That’s crucially what you’re doing in a literature review, too—you’re showing the reader what helped to inform your review the most and why you think the literature you’ve read and analyzed is so important. This is vital because your readers will be fellow academics—those who need to find actionable details in your critical analysis to build foundations for their own research. The key point to remember here, of course, is to avoid making assumptions and, instead, to draw conclusions on the objective data presented, and how it may differ compared between different sources.

Don’t ignore controversy

Although it might seem wise to avoid drawing on many controversies that arise through your research, it’s important to raise them in your review. After all, your analysis might revolve around the fact some research is objectively flawed.

Alongside promoting your own take on the research you review, remember to show your readers the bare facts—even if you can prove their flaws. Counteract these controversial moments, for example, with data backed up from other sources.

As a leader, you should always be ready and willing to challenge information or stances that don’t add up or help you find solutions to problems. You’re likely to work with many people who will have their own subjective opinions and takes on events. When you need to arbitrate between different employees, for example, you need to be willing to address stories that might not add up, or that there might be information missing.

Being analytical doesn’t just mean summarizing data or repeating arguments for the sake of doing so. It means showing the good and bad sides of research and presenting it in a clear and concise way. This shows you understand what’s being discussed and helps others to find their own way through research.

Analytical thinkers make superb leaders

Arguably, the most effective leaders are those who understand their people, processes, and what they need to do to succeed. To some, effective leadership might seem as simple as being able to inspire and manage others—but critical thinking and a willingness to analyze situations is just as important.

Although you might not write research papers and literature reviews once on the road to leadership in your chosen industry, there’s a lot you can gain from building reviews during your studies. Writing reviews in an academic way helps you to think carefully about the information you read, and how you present it to others.

Truly brilliant leaders inspire and guide people by taking complex and sometimes controversial information and breaking it down with objectivity and balance. Some of the skills you’ll need to succeed as a leader will come from within. However, skills such as thinking critically in a crisis can build up during your education and work experience.

You might also find that literature reviews open up interesting new doors into different subject areas and industries you might not have already considered. Therefore, it’s always worth diving into the world of critical writing regardless of who you’d like to lead, and under what circumstances.

The first step to take is to find a reputable college or university where you can hone these skills while building up knowledge of your chosen industry. You never know what interesting topics and insights you might come across!

FG Editorial Team
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