Doing Your Literature Review

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A key aspect of a literature review is what sources you select to include, and which you exclude.

Thanks to the internet, literature searches are now relatively easy, and can be done from the comfort of your own laptop without needing to go anywhere near a library. The ease with which anybody can access and publish to the internet means that many items published online have not been scrutinised by anybody other than the author.

You will also use the literature review to justify the value of doing research on your topic by showing what is already known, what is not yet known, and how it is relevant.

Your literature review should not simply be descriptive but should also provide a critical analysis of the body of work, and demonstrate that you understand how it fits together as a whole and how your own research fits with previous studies.

Critical reading is a skill that, like any other skill, is acquired with practice.

In essence, reading critically means that you do not take the claims at face value: you question the basis for claims, why the author may have done and said things in the particular way he or she did, what the wider context is, and whose interests are being served by the claims you encounter.If you’re really struggling to find articles on the right topic, but you’re certain that they must be out there, drop your supervisor a note asking about possible search terms.Tell them what you’ve already used, and ask them for a few alternatives to get you started.You should also try to find several different sorts of sources: books, journal articles, dissertations, conference papers, working papers, and so on.You need to make sure that you identify the key texts for the subject.So a trip to your library may prove to be very helpful.If you haven’t already done so, get yourself an ATHENS account through your university and/or school library.However, this should be a last resort, as you don’t want to demonstrate your ignorance too obviously! You need to read a lot of sources to find the most relevant and will probably end up discarding more than half of what you read.Use abstracts to decide which articles are worth reading, and don’t read those that aren’t relevant: keep checking back to your research questions and decide whether each article is useful. Your literature review should not only show that you have been reading a range of materials related to your topic, but also that you have been reading them critically and have thought about the wider contexts and how they apply to your own area of research.Check a few references, and see which texts are cited most often, or ask the librarians how to use the databases to check how often each article is cited.A good way to identify when you have read enough is if your reading keeps turning up the same points and you’re not learning anything new.

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Comments Doing Your Literature Review

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