How to critically review or analyze the literature?

By Priya Chetty on July 3, 2014

Critical analysis means you are identifying the problems or weaknesses of previous research. That is the meaning of the word “critic”. For example, the job of a food critic is to criticize the food served to him. He may like it or he may find faults and give suggestions to make the dish better. Similarly, a film critic will decide whether a movie was good or bad.
In a research paper, you are the critic. The first step in choosing a research topic is to read recent studies in the area of interest and decide what is lacking. This will help you justify why you want to do research on the topic. Thus, critical analysis means doing lots of research related to your topic, identifying the shortcomings, and explaining how your research will address these shortcomings and how.

Critically review or analyze literature

First of all, make a good outline of all points you want to include or explain.

Suppose the research topic is “Impact of age on compensation in public sector companies”.

The literature review should primarily talk about:

  • Factors affecting compensation.
  • Which demographic factors affect compensation?
  • How does age affect compensation?
  • How does age affect compensation in public sector companies?

The second step in a critical analysis is to identify 8-10 good recent types of research or journals related to your topic that are not more than 5 years old. They must have empirical research, i.e. some kind of primary study analysis of them (survey or interview, etc.). For example:

For a research paper on the same topic as above, I will look for:

  • Any study that has primary research talking about how age affects compensation. This can be in any country or industry.
  • Studies that talk about the impact of all demographic factors on compensation.
  • Studies that talk about the impact of age on productivity and wage.

All of the above 3 studies should have primary research analysis. They should not be only based on secondary research or theory. Then you should summarize these studies in the following manner:

  • Brief information about the study, where was it conducted and by whom will help you achieve credibility in your research.
  • And it is important that you put forward the findings of these studies.

Keep in mind that you do not stray away and avoid providing extra information and explanation or interpretation of the study. The summary should for each study be short and concise. Keep a limited number of words for each summary. It is important that you do not extra emphasize the summary as this part is not important but rather necessary to include.

Lastly, identify the shortcomings of these studies. In this case, the shortcoming is that none of the 3 studies mentioned above is focused on the effect of age on compensation in private sector companies in India. They are all in different contexts like other countries, industries, etc. Therefore, the research will be significant because it focuses only on private sector companies. This was not been explored independently by any researcher before.

Points to remember for critical analysis

  1. Choose studies that are related to your research area.
  2. Do not refer to books for critical analysis.
  3. The studies you choose for critical analysis should have primary research analysis.
  4. Avoid excess information in the summary of the study and avoid writing more than a few words for each study.
  5. Review at least 10 empirical studies.
  6. None of these studies should be older than 5 years old, otherwise, your research will become invalid.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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