Searching electronic databases is probably the quickest way to access a lot of material. Guidance will be available via your own department or school and via the relevant Information Librarian. There may also be key sources of publications for your subject that are accessible electronically, such as collections of policy documents, standards, archive material, videos, and audio-recordings.
If you can find a few really useful sources, it can be a good idea to check through their reference lists to see the range of sources that they referred to.
This can be particularly useful if you find a review article that evaluates other literature in the field. This will then provide you with a long reference list, and some evaluation of the references it contains.
An electronic search may throw up a huge number of hits, but there are still likely to be other relevant articles that it has not detected. So, despite having access to electronic databases and to electronic searching techniques, it can be surprisingly useful to have a pile of journals actually on your desk, and to look through the contents pages, and the individual articles. Often hand searching of journals will reveal ideas about focus, research questions, methods, techniques, or interpretations that had not occurred to you.
Sometimes even a key idea can be discovered in this way. It is therefore probably worth allocating some time to sitting in the library, with issues from the last year or two of the most relevant journals for your research topic, and reviewing them for anything of relevance. To avoid printing out or photocopying a lot of material that you will not ultimately read, you can use the abstracts of articles to check their relevance before you obtain full copies. EndNote and RefWorks are software packages that you can use to collect and store details of your references, and your comments on them.
As you review the references, remember to be a critical reader see Study Guide What is critical reading? Keeping a record of your search strategy is useful, to prevent you duplicating effort by doing the same search twice, or missing out a significant and relevant sector of literature because you think you have already done that search.
Increasingly, examiners at post-graduate level are looking for the detail of how you chose which evidence you decided to refer to. They will want to know how you went about looking for relevant material, and your process of selection and omission. You need to check what is required within your own discipline.
If you are required to record and present your search strategy, you may be able to include the technical details of the search strategy as an appendix to your thesis. Plagiarism is regarded as a serious offence by all Universities, and you need to make sure that you do not, even accidentally, commit plagiarism.
It can happen accidentally, for example, if you are careless in your note-taking. This can mean that you get mixed up over what is an exact quote, and what you have written in your own words; or over what was an idea of your own that you jotted down, or an idea from some text.
This has the advantage that, when you come to use that example in your writing up, you can choose:. Help is available regarding how to avoid plagiarism and it is worth checking it out. Your department will have its own guidance.
It is important to keep control of the reading process, and to keep your research focus in mind. Rudestam and Newton It is also important to see the writing stage as part of the research process, not something that happens after you have finished reading the literature.
Wellington et al Once you are part way through your reading you can have a go at writing the literature review, in anticipation of revising it later on. It is often not until you start explaining something in writing that you find where your argument is weak, and you need to collect more evidence.
A skill that helps in curtailing the reading is: Decisions need to be made about where to focus your reading, and where you can refer briefly to an area but explain why you will not be going into it in more detail.
The task of shaping a logical and effective report of a literature review is undeniably challenging. Some useful guidance on how to approach the writing up is given by Wellington et al In most disciplines, the aim is for the reader to reach the end of the literature review with a clear appreciation of what you are doing; why you are doing it; and how it fits in with other research in your field.
Often, the literature review will end with a statement of the research question s. Having a lot of literature to report on can feel overwhelming. It is important to keep the focus on your study, rather than on the literature Wellington To help you do this, you will need to establish a structure to work to. A good, well-explained structure is also a huge help to the reader. As with any piece of extended writing, structure is crucial.
There may be specific guidance on structure within your department, or you may need to devise your own. Once you have established your structure you need to outline it for your reader. Although you clearly need to write in an academic style, it can be helpful to imagine that you are telling a story.
The thread running through the story is the explanation of why you decided to do the study that you are doing. The story needs to be logical, informative, persuasive, comprehensive and, ideally, interesting. It needs to reach the logical conclusion that your research is a good idea. If there is a key article or book that is of major importance to the development of your own research ideas, it is important to give extra space to describing and critiquing that piece of literature in more depth.
Similarly, if there are some studies that you will be referring to more than to others, it would be useful to give them a full report and critique at this stage.
As well as using tables to display numerical data, tables can be useful within a literature review when you are comparing other kinds of material.
For example, you could use a table to display the key differences between two or more:. The table format can make the comparisons easier to understand than if they were listed within the text. It can also be a check for yourself that you have identified enough relevant differences.
An omission will be more obvious within a table, where it would appear as a blank cell, than it would be within text. Almost all academic writing will need a reference list. This is a comprehensive list of the full references of sources that you have referred to in your writing.
The reader needs to be able to follow up any source you have referred to. A bibliography is not usually necessary or relevant, unless you have been asked to produce one.
This experience is common in PhD study, but it can happen at any level, and can feel as if you have wasted a lot of effort. Looking at this positively, however, you have probably read more widely than you might otherwise have done. That probably confirms that it was a good question to ask!
Although this can feel very disappointing at first, it can often be transformed into a benefit. It is important that your research fits logically within the existing research in your area, and you may have found an ideal study to link with and to extend in some way.
Firstly, this is unlikely. Perhaps if you modify your search strategy you will find something. Because as time has evolved, and research tools have become much more sophisticated, more current research is likely to be more valid and has been built on a lot of earlier research that you really do not need to review. So, you begin with a ProQuest search, pulling up abstracts of the most recent literature that relates to your question.
You will find, in your search for literature on ProQuest, that there will be abstracts for dissertations that were produced as long ago as the 19th century. While some of these may be great to read, here is a more efficient method. Locate dissertations that have been written within the past two decades and read the abstracts for those first.
You can then select the ones that most relate to your research question and order the full dissertations. Read through the literature reviews of those dissertations, and you are sure to find summaries of earlier dissertations on the same question. If they look promising as well, you can then order up those to read.
This saves a lot of time. In the dissertation guide that you have hopefully been given by your department advisor, review carefully how citations in your literature review are to be formatted. For example, if your research question relates to the negative results of grade retention on elementary school children, you might cite a recent study by two prominent researchers in the field in this way. Jimerson and Davis, Literature reviews can be frustrating, if only because of the sheer amount of time you will spend locating just the right literature, reading it, and then summarizing it so as to show its relevance to your own research.
Getting help is no comment on your intelligence or your commitment to your research.
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Writing Dissertation Literature Review. A literature review is a study of existing research which is related to your topic. It shows how dissertation literature review relates to your research. A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research.
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