Feeling scared, daunted but a tad excited about the prospect of literature review? I definitely put my hand up, anyone else? Well in this quick post, and as I go through the journey myself, I wanted to give a quick overview of the key things I am thinking about to organise and contruct my review.

The start…
From my reading so far, it’s the bit of the PhD, intended to give you the wealth of knowledge needed to become an expert in your area, through understanding the debates and arguments in your field of inquiry. It help’s you identify the specific gap in knowledge, the methodologies that work most effectively, informing and moulding the way you shape your research questions and own methodology.

Although accomplishing the main chunk of review in 12 months does sound scary (particularly if you have looked at other theses), however, there are definitely some common tips to consider at the beginning in order to break it down, keep focussed, systematic and robust:

Start SMART – don’t just delve in to the literature without a clear strategy of how you will be organising and assessing each individual piece. Think about which criteria you will be using to make sure the same quality standards are adopted throughout the review… you may also wish to design a summary sheet for each literature you read with key summarising points i.e. main themes, methodologies used, sample sizes, any bias, ethical considerations, the research questions they were asking (if research literature) etc…

– Take your research questions, and break these down in to micro questions which will help break down what you will essentially need to answer the overarching research question(s)

– At the start of your literature search, you’ll come accross 100’s of articles which appear relevant to your field of inquiry, and although many will be, many will not – and will distract you from the more important literature. Developing a ‘search strategy’ will help you not only operationalise your review, but also ask some pertinent questions in order to keep the review focused on answering and informing, your research questions.

Consider questions like:
– What will I include / exclude from the search?
– What are the key words / search strings I will use to identify the right studies? And how well defined are these key words (remember some words have duplicate means, or do not have concrete definitions)?
– What types of literature do I want to find – theoretical/research papers/practice or policy literature?
– And how will I find them? Specalised databases like EBSCO and Business Source Premier, trip down to see your subject librarian maybe?

Any more tips… feel free to post below!