What is the Point of the Literature Review?

[Cross Posted from Thoughts on Military History]

What is it for?

We are told that it is there to highlight the wider literature the surrounds our research. It is to:

  • Situate your research focus within the context of the wider academic community in your field
  • Report your critical review of the relevant literature
  • Identify a gap within that literature that your research will attempt to address

However, I have found that when I tried to integrate important tomes on the development of the RAF with accounts that deal with Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory’s leadership it became too large and unwieldy.

Originally, when I began my research my introduction had a literature review that dealt with both elements, however, it ended up being about 8,000 words in length, or 10% of my thesis. It dealt with the opposing views of Leigh-Mallory that are characterised by Bill Newton Dunn’s biography and Vincent Orange’s work. It then moved on to look at the various strands of literature on the development of British air power; noticeably the role of the RFC/RAF in the First World War, the inter-war RAF, education in the military, the Battle of Britain, the role of RAF Fighter Command, and the planning and conduct of Operation OVERLORD. Added to this was the necessary literature review that went into my theory chapter on leadership theory. This in itself ended up at a couple of thousand words. Too much!

However, about a month ago I made one of those decisions that seemed to solve my problem. I chose to get rid of the ‘operational’ material and merge the overview of the debate over Leigh-Mallory with the leadership material. This led to a leaner introduction and theory chapter, which I think situates my research into both of my fields. It also clearly identifies that there is a gap in the literature because of the diametrically opposed views characterised by Dunn and Orange. I then decided because of the conceptual model I am using it would be useful to have a ‘Note on Sources’ in each relevant chapter. This would allow me to link my methodology, the 360-degree appraisal method, to the subjectivity of key sources and literature. Problem solved I thought.

No. I have now decided that the chapter on which I am working needs to be split into two. However, what am I to do with the ‘Note of Sources I prepared for their forebear? I am now thinking I will try to further integrate the issues with key literature into the relevant sections of each chapter. For example, in one chapter I discuss the importance of the RAF Staff College and Imperial Defence College in terms of succession planning. One of the key sources for this is Robin Higham’s The Military Intellectuals in Britain; however, there are some key issues with his interpretation that needs to be addressed. Arguably, this could have been raised in a wider literature review in the introduction. However, having cut this I am now trying to raise this in the main body of the thesis. I think this works better as it allows me to highlight key issues throughout the thesis. Does this allow me to provide a critical review of the literature in an effective manner?

The new layout seems to make it flow better; however, I worry that I may be told no and it will require a major re-write.

Thoughts? What is it for?

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