How to write a literature review in 3 days

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Guide for students who need to write a first class literature review but are short on time

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  • This was really helpful and the advice is concrete. Much better than "tell a story. OK, go!" Thank you!
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How to write a literature review in 3 days

  1. 1. How to write a 3000 word literature review in 3 days Mark Reed
  2. 2. What is a literature review? • • • • A literature review is a type of essay Summarises the key literature written on a subject (rarely exhaustive) A story that summarises material in a logical order, composed of critical arguments, concluding with your own reflections on the most important insights that emerge Mainly based on peer-reviewed material (>50%)
  3. 3. Literature reviews are easy • • • • Learn how to speed read – you don’t need to read every word of every paper you cite Stay focused on your question(s) so you can extract the key points Organise what you’ve read efficiently Find a system to link key points together into critical arguments as part of an overall story
  4. 4. Day 1
  5. 5. Day 1, 9.00-10.00: Scoping • • Google to expand list of search terms Search via Scopus/Web of Science/ScienceDirect • Sort by relevance
  6. 6. Day 1, 10.00-17.00: Reading • Screen your reading: • • • • Read titles only, skipping less relevant ones Scan read relevant abstracts Download relevant papers, speed read intro, results, discussion and conclusion, read slowly around key points Only read methods in detail for papers that are key to your argument or controversial (e.g. contradict mainstream view)
  7. 7. Day 1, 10.00-17.00: Reading • Create a database in Excel • • • Column A: topic/theme Column B: author/year Copy and paste relevant sentences/paragraphs to cells in Column A • Use speech marks to ensure you don’t confuse quotes with material you paraphrase
  8. 8. Day 1, 10.00-17.00: Reading • Create themes and sub-themes as you read • • Sub-divide and combine themes as necessary Sort themes/sub-themes into a coherent structure • • • Visual learners: mind-map Kinesthetic learners: post-it note spider diagram Read-write/auditory: copy and paste themes onto a single page in Word and sort (reading them aloud for auditory learners)
  9. 9. Day 2
  10. 10. Day 2, 9.00-11.00: Create a map • Take a step back from your mindmap branches, spider legs or list of themes: • • • Group into as few as possible major themes (3-6), think what story you could tell to link these themes coherently (these become sub-headings in review) Think about what sub-themes fit under each of these major themes, and their order Number themes and sub-themes 1, 1a, 1b etc.
  11. 11. Day 2, 11.00-13.00: Walk & lunch • • Go for a walk, forget about work and let your review gradually structure settle in your mind Try and get some distance from your work, so you can come back and see a bird’s eye view of your whole story in your mind, to check if it really holds together coherently
  12. 12. Day 2, 13.00-14.00: Revisit structure • Revisit your structure (mindmap, post-its, Word file) and make any changes based on insights from your morning’s reflections
  13. 13. Day 2, 14.00-17.00: Plug gaps • Identify gaps in your story and arguments and target additional reading to fill gaps
  14. 14. Day 3
  15. 15. Day 3: Write your review • • • You now have a map you can follow to write your literature review Create sub-headings, go to relevant section of Excel file, re-read the material under that section and put into your own words, citing the literature it came from Add your own reflections to each section
  16. 16. Day 3: Write your review • Conclude: • • Summarise your story, including key arguments Draw out your main personal reflections re: what it all means and why it is important
  17. 17. More information
  18. 18. Contact me: www.markreed.webeden.ac.uk

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