How to Avoid Bias in a Literature Review


When writing a literature review -- a survey of scholarly books and articles on a specific topic or issue for a college research paper -- objectivity should be one of your primary goals. You can avoid bias by evaluating both the strengths and the weaknesses of each literary work and by ensuring that the authors have credentials and experience to back their findings. Avoid passing judgments based on your personal values.

Examine Different Positions

  • Consider a broad spectrum of works on the topic, so your review is well-rounded, suggests the University of California at Santa Cruz. Examine why some experts in the field support specific positions and others oppose them. You might discover that some have a completely different take on the issue. An unbiased literature review seeks to examine data, facts and professional opinions to determine the validity of arguments. For example, if your research paper is on the benefits of stem cell research, your literature review should include medical journals, case studies and expert opinions on the subject. You might also discuss why some oppose stem cell research for ethical or religious reasons.

Provide Evidence from the Text

  • Refer to statistics, facts and findings in your scholarly literature selections to back your review. Cite specific information from the text -- paraphrasing is fine as long as you credit your sources. Explain why the author's findings are reliable and trustworthy, such as the author's educational background, experience in the field or involvement in case studies. Even though a literature review is your interpretation of the material, you add credibility to your arguments by backing them with proof from the text.

Avoid Personal Judgments

  • Examine your statements carefully to ensure that your interpretation of the text doesn't reflect personal judgments, viewpoints or prejudices. The goal is to create a balanced critical assessment of the literary works you're reviewing. Ask yourself if your comments are justifiable or if you're incorporating personal values into your review. For example, if you're reviewing a law journal on the advantages of capital punishment and you oppose every point based on your religious upbringing, then your literature review will contain bias. However, you can find other articles that discuss the negatives of capital punishment, such as expensive, long-lasting appeal processes, to add credibility to your review.

Watch Your Language

  • Focus on ways to inform and educate your readers, rather than manipulate them. You want your literature review to support your thesis and arguments, but you shouldn't take ideas out of context or misguide your readers. For example, pointing out that a particular study only represents a small sample of the population or that an author never addresses an alternate approach is completely acceptable. Highlight trends in what has been published on the issue, explain differences in theory or methodology and elaborate on why there are gaps or shortcomings in research, suggests the University of Wisconsin. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each literary work is critical to the validity of your research. However, using highly emotional language, derogatory statements or a negative tone detracts from the professionalism of your paper.


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