According to the definition in the University of Toronto’s guide, “a literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers” (Taylor, n. d.). Since the purpose of the literature review is to convey established knowledge and ideas on a topic, to define their strengths and weaknesses, and to develop questions for further research (Taylor, n. d.), it stands to reason that the quality literature review should not only demonstrate the author’s ability to gather information, but it should also reveal one’s skills of the critical evaluation of the material, in order to serve the purpose of the research. To analyze the examples of literature reviews on social media, I have chosen the articles “Social Media in Higher Education” by Charles H. F. Davis III, Regina Deil-Amen, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, and Manuel Sacramento Gonzalez Canche (2012) and “The Use of Social Media for Academic Practice” by Retta Guy (2012).
In both articles, the literature review serves practically the same goal which is to study the use of social media in higher education: the specific purpose of the review by Davis III et al. (2012) is understanding the role and impact of social media technology among higher educational institutions, which would, in turn, allow the authors to report on effective practices across the institutions (p. 3); while the review by Guy (2012) aims at examining the use of social media in higher education (p. 2). Therefore, the reviewed literature was supposed to be organized by the authors around their particular goals. In this regard, both articles represent the logical integration of the reviewed literature into the authors’ arguments, making them coherent. As a result, the reviewed material is arranged around the main points of the research, instead of presenting the findings randomly: each review is organized logically and the points are presented clearly, making the articles apprehensible.
Though the reviewed sources of both articles are academically relevant, the scope of the literature review by Davis III et al. (2012) is larger than that of Guy (2012): besides the books and academic journals that the latter bases her research on, the former also use higher education news, individual university documents, blogs, and online media (Davis III et al., 2012, p. 1). Furthermore, in comparison with Guy (2012), Davis III et al. (2012) express explicit criticism of the sources: if Guy (2012) admits that the published research on the effectiveness of social media is limited in terms of using social media platforms and that there is the need for further exploration (p. 16), Davis III et al. (2012) go further and put the limitations of the research to scrutiny, thus, addressing the implications for further research more specifically. For instance, Davis III et al. (2012) point out the specific weaknesses of the empirical studies such as examining traditional college students rather than community college students, using self-reported data rather than data generated from social media technology sites, exploring only such dimensions of students’ networks as ethnic ties with peers and the relation of privacy settings to social networks, and the failure to engage the meaning-making aspect of students’ social network (p. 23).
Nevertheless, it should be noted that both articles do not stray from each other’s main points and findings which can be summarized as follows: social media is a rapidly developing sphere; though the extensive use of social media is observed in all demographics, the particularly heavy use is observed among the students of color; the use of social media for academic purpose has both advantages and disadvantages; the published research in this area has its limitations; there is the incontrovertible need for further research in this area.
All in all, we can conclude that the credibility of the literature review depends on its organization around the purpose of the research rather than mere summarizing the sources, on the critical evaluation of the weaknesses of the prior research, and on accordance of the main findings with the parallel researches.