Friday, 8 July 2016

Literature Review Tips

A couple of months ago Chris Deason posted a question in the LinkedIn higher education training and learning group, calling for hints and tips for the literature review.

Within that material, there was a link to a ten point "A Beginner’s Guide to Doing Your Education Research Project", kindly shared on academia.edu by Mike Lambert from the University of Wolverhampton. 

I have summarised Mike's work below, also adding my own interpretation:
  1. How the literature review links to your research questions
    Our literature review must be closely tied to our project research question, and focused on answering our aims. It should follow on logically from our introduction, and prepare our reader for the methodology to come.
    It should outline all the background so that the reader understands why we were undertaking the research we are undertaking, and explain our underlying scaffolding theories.

  2. The ‘swimming-pool’ approach to literature review
    Mike proposes an alternative approach to the literature review, where we plan and build our entire literature review en masse, rather like filling a swimming pool.
    Mike's idea is that, based on our reading, we will get indicators on what the key concepts are within our topic area, and cluster our materials as
    we read and write notes.
    Eventually
    we will have created a framework that enables us to encapsulate the literature that we have read and can make sense of the material; dividing up with subtitles, and further exploring our research question.
    Once
    we are relatively well satisfied with our exploration, we then formally write up our notes, using our subtitles to direct our progression.

  3. How to take notes when reading
    Mike suggests the following strategies for notes-taking:
    "Note down concise, specific details of research you read about – numbers of those taking part, national context of the research, etc. Include these in your literature-review text. For example: ‘In interview research with 30 teachers in five schools in Scotland, Smith (2012) found that …’. This kind of detail strengthens the depth and credibility of your writing". In addition, Mike suggests that we seek statistical evidence that these readings spark within us - so we need to keep notes indicating what additional data we may require as we go through.
    "Identify contrasts and similarities in ideas – where do writers agree, disagree, or have differing perspectives? This process allows you to show ‘criticality’ – not just describing what people have written, but analyzing what one says against what others say to produce a composite picture of the issue under scrutiny".
    "Jot down your own thoughts: the strengths of the literature you are reading; gaps you notice in an author’s thinking; the nature of ‘discourse’ (how people talk or write about an idea). These notes will help you to analyse and interpret ideas, both in the literature review itself and when you relate the findings of your research back to your literature review towards the end of your written project".

  4. Recording background
    Sometimes it is not just the facts that we need to record for our literature review, but the development of ideas, trends, or exploration of history.
    We must remember to add colour - richness - to the literature, and to interpret what has happened, and what the fashions appear to be within our topic area. This can enable us to predict what is likely to come in the future.

  5. Data sources
    Our literature review will be more reliable, generalisable, and valid if it draws on a range of sources. We need to include books, journals, university publications, government sources, and well-qualified researchers who are publishing through more populist channels (such as documentaries, good quality magazines, conferences, and long-form articles).
    This latter allows us to tap into current and newly-forming ideas.
    Amongst the University publications, we mustn't neglect exploring PhD theses. In this way
    we get much more up-to-date research. Additionally, we need to seek those who disagree with our point of view: it enables us to test our ideas.

  6. Testing your ideas
    In order to critically evaluate the materials
    we use in our literature review, Mike suggests:
    "Compare research studies: To what extent is the area of focus in the investigations similar or different? How do the methodologies used compare? What conclusions are reached? – how do these inform the issue being examined?"
    "Compare perspectives: How do authors’ own views on a topic compare? Do different authors see things from different angles? Do they argue in similar or different ways?"
    "Evaluate the literature: To what extent is a text you examine reliable and comprehensive? Are ideas well argued? persuasive? unconvincing? over-stated? Why is this so?"

  7. Prepare the reader for the next section
    Our literature review should conclude with what
    we have done, and what our next steps are.
    We should lead our reader seamlessly into our methodology, without any unanswered questions or surprises.

Sam

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