Writing a literature review by Tim Lang


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Writing a literature review by Tim Lang

  1. 1. <ul><li>Writing your literature review </li></ul><ul><li>Tim Lang </li></ul><ul><li>Centre for Food Policy, City University London </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Research Development Day, 23 November 2011 </li></ul>
  2. 2. What is a thesis / doctoral inquiry? <ul><li>Clarity about the purpose of a thesis </li></ul><ul><li>It is a qualification but above all a standard </li></ul><ul><li>Phd implies a structure (a narrative): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Defining a problem which is real </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Exploring this through a recognised process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Producing findings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Contributing to the literature / ‘knowledge’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pointing to future work </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Lit reviews are ... <ul><li>Critical accounts of what’s published </li></ul><ul><li>A summary of the arguments & data </li></ul><ul><li>A description of the ‘state of the art’ </li></ul><ul><li>A way of highlighting </li></ul><ul><ul><li>what is known </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is not known: gaps </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A way of producing ‘problems’ – differences, tensions, holes in knowledge </li></ul>
  4. 4. Lit reviews are not ... <ul><li>An opportunity to give your own private / professional views (you suspend those!) </li></ul><ul><li>Your deep analysis of the entire area on which others have worked decades (centuries) and in which you are relatively new </li></ul>
  5. 5. Rule number 1 is take advice <ul><li>Take advice from your supervisor(s) </li></ul><ul><li>Follow a process which is right for your discipline (they differ on what & how) </li></ul><ul><li>Note that process </li></ul><ul><li>Adapt it only with and on advice </li></ul><ul><li>Read up on the literature on doing a Literature Review! </li></ul>
  6. 6. The role of Literature Review <ul><li>It’s partly about methodology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>There are processes for conducting a Lit Rev </li></ul></ul><ul><li>It’s partly about clarification: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>what does the existing body of knowledge say about your possible ‘problem’? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>It’s partly a ground clearance exercise: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Making sure no-one else has done what you are minded to do </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. The Lit Review is also personal <ul><li>It’s your first serious walk into the territory you are about to explore </li></ul><ul><li>It charts your route </li></ul><ul><li>It will form your thoughts </li></ul><ul><li>It’ll be your interpretation of what the lit says </li></ul><ul><li>it’ll form a key element in your rationale for research </li></ul>
  8. 8. Different kinds of Lit Revs <ul><li>Systematic Reviews </li></ul><ul><li>Cochrane Reviews </li></ul><ul><li>Scoping reviews </li></ul><ul><li>Rapid reviews </li></ul><ul><li>Discipline specific reviews (conventions) </li></ul><ul><li>Etc </li></ul>
  9. 9. Purpose of reviews <ul><li>Is it to aggregate data (ie a meta-analysis)? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the focus on quantitative or qualitative data? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it to produce a narrative / interpretation of ‘facts’ and the body of knowledge? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it a narrative synthesis? </li></ul>
  10. 10. Range of literature to review <ul><li>Which disciplines do you need to search in? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it clear who ‘owns’ the problem? </li></ul><ul><li>Are you sure what your discipline is? (does it matter?) </li></ul><ul><li>How many journals? </li></ul><ul><li>Which disciplines? </li></ul><ul><li>Which boundaries do you cross? </li></ul>
  11. 11. Depth of literature <ul><li>How deep do you want to go? </li></ul><ul><li>This is an issue of complexity </li></ul><ul><li>It’s a matter of judgement </li></ul><ul><li>Decide on quality </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Are you prepared to take low quality journals? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Low quality articles (if interesting)? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do you only accept double blind randomised intervention trials (Cochrane / gold standard)? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only experimental not theoretical? </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. The process mechanics <ul><li>Choice of keywords </li></ul><ul><li>Choosing combinations </li></ul><ul><li>Which journals? </li></ul><ul><li>How? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is there a place for browsing the shelves? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Will electronic searches suffice? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can you ask people? If so, whom? (take advice from supervisors) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How can you scope the terrain? </li></ul>
  13. 13. Problems you’ll encounter <ul><li>Overload: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Modern electronic searches can produce 100s / 1000s of articles </li></ul></ul><ul><li>When to stop: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Follow conventions </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Multiple probes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You will inevitably need to refine your searches (questions of depth / range) </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Evaluating the Literature <ul><li>To some extent, the Lit Rev is a pretence at (ie claims) objectivity </li></ul><ul><li>Some evaluation is inevitable </li></ul><ul><li>Indeed, the purpose of Lit Rev is to evaluate: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If there is a problem </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How to tackle it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What others have found </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gaps </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Sources on the process <ul><li>The best thing to do is to read others’ articles and see what / how they did it </li></ul><ul><li>Above all, think as well as using process and purpose </li></ul><ul><li>The Lit Rev sets your entire thesis / inquiry process onto a proper footing </li></ul>
  16. 16. A note of intellectual caution <ul><li>Despite their advantages, be wary of letting process take over </li></ul><ul><li>A Lit Rev is to aid thinking (hence a doctorate being PhD /philosophy) </li></ul><ul><li>Beware letting Lit Revs impose too much order: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Knowledge is not just ‘known’ or ‘unknown’ or ‘known unknowns’ (D Rumsfeld) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Knowledge is also an engagement with blur, complexity, etc </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. A note of emotional caution <ul><li>In an ideal world, the Lit Rev never ends </li></ul><ul><li>Literature always grows </li></ul><ul><li>So you must make yours time specific </li></ul><ul><li>Never retrofit a systematic review </li></ul><ul><li>With others one can but be pragmatic: </li></ul><ul><li>When writing up finally, add literature which </li></ul><ul><ul><li>is really useful </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>examiners would be shocked if you omitted </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Sources, sources, sources <ul><li>You can do a Lit Rev on Lit Revs </li></ul><ul><li>There is much advice on the web </li></ul><ul><li>See: http://www.cochrane.org/ </li></ul><ul><li>Hart, C. (2009) Doing a literature review: releasing the social science research imagination London: Sage </li></ul><ul><li>Petticrew M, Roberts H (2010) Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Oxford: Blackwell </li></ul>
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