Posts tagged ‘Literature Review’

11/04/2011

How to Do A Good Literature Review

I really appreciate useful tips in school that I know I will in some way take with me in any future research or academic endeavor. I am part of the cohort of AU grad students who have never been taught how to actually DO a lit review. Yes, I’ve done several in my time as a grad student, but never with clear certainty. SO, for the use of those on the interwebs wondering, “How do I do a literature review?”, REMEMBER it’s not about finding every piece of information ever ┬árelating to your topic. This was my misconception. Instead, use your resources wisely and join the discussion!

While the list below is not indefinitely exhaustive as research outlets and technological capabilities evolve, here are some helpful steps for you:

Phase 1: Know your Motivation

  • Be Strategic: You are looking for ammunition to make the argument you want to make
  • Focus on: Dominant conversations about your subject
  • If your subject is narrow, you may have to use less traditional research methods: A considerable body of work may exist on two topics, but not necessarily combined

Phase 2: Visualize & Operationalize

  • Jargon: Build an online keywords list used in research relevant to your topic
  • Map out the type of material or evidence you seek so you know when you’ve found key information

I. Find a “nodal point”

Start with an expert if you can. Finding a professor, non-profit representative, business person, or government worker that knows something about the topic will give you a launching pad for your research:

  • They might direct you to other “right” persons or readings and can clarify the questions you’re asking
  • They will also provide a crucial gut-check for your research question to let you know if you’re on the right track

II. Make friends with reference librarian: Their job is to do these searches for you

III. Get a pulse on the discussion through synthetic articles in handbooks & periodic reviews

  • Get a sense for what other people are saying
  • Figure out how you would respond to their comments if you were in a conversation with them

IV. Find relevant journal articles or books to get a sense of how many people are talking about your topic

V. Use other people’s research! Dissertations require literature reviews, so if you can, use them

VI. Treat your findings like a card catalog–find out what’s around them to get a lead on other subject headings related to your topic. Another way to think about it is “look around the book you pick out for other ideas.”

VII. Keep good records: Don’t waste your time doing tons of research and not recording where you’ve looked. Good organization will also make it easier to order and write your paper

VIII. Learn to Skim Well

  • Pick out ideas through the introduction, conclusions, topic headings, and key phrases
  • Only read key articles in depth

Phase 3: Regroup

  • Go back to your initial motivation and vision and assess whether your research is addressing your topic or whether it’s pointing you elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to change your thesis!