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    This Category: > PhD Advice / Support


    Literature review tips, tricks and tactics

    User: CH01 - 07 February 2021 06:42

    Hi all, new to the forum but have read a few threads and have found it to be of immense value to someone considering a PhD in Education.

    At the moment, I am about to start my Master’s thesis, which I will use as part of a PhD application later on this year. With that in mind, I was wondering if anyone had an tips, tricks, tactics or useful advice on -

    1. How to start a literature review
    2. How you work on your literature review and fine tune it over time
    3. The approach you take to the literature review
    4. How many words is a literate review in a PhD usually?
    4. Any other advice you might have!

    User: abababa - 09 February 2021 00:14

    1. How to start a literature review

    Read. Whilst taking notes. Most bad literature reviews smack of glossing over abstracts/wikipedia, with no genuine understanding of the source material. Take notes, because this will force you to read properly. Do not even think about the writeup at the early stages.

    2. How you work on your literature review and fine tune it over time

    Have a method. Will you do an empirical meta-review, or a discussive chapter? These have very different requirements. A good review is a contribution to science in its own right, and as such needs a clear methodology and method.

    3. The approach you take to the literature review

    Personally, when starting out I ignored the first two comments and tried to write x words. I learned from experience this is how not to do it.

    4. How many words is a literate review in a PhD usually?

    This is not a question to ask - to paraphrase Pascal, 'I would have written a shorter review but didn't have enough time'. A good review must start way over the limit and be cut down. Nobody has ever written a good piece of work by aiming upwardly on a word limit.

    4. Any other advice you might have!

    I think that covers it :)

    User: ironsidemichael - 09 February 2021 03:19

    Hi, you might find the following website useful:

    User: CH01 - 09 February 2021 03:57

    That was a great response. Thank you! It gave me some good feedback as to what I am currently doing is right!

    I’m currently reading books on my topic and I’m using Evernote to make chapter summaries and list major quotes etc. Undertaking somewhat of a reading for understanding approach with notes being a key for me. I also like the fact that I can go back to my notes and use them for the literature review too. I can see how it is important to do this given how much you have to read!

    The thing that struck me the most there was that people use Wikipedia for literature reviews?! At a PhD level?! Wowee. I’m equally as concerned as I am confused by that!

    I’ve started writing a tentative version (it will no doubt be absolutely torn to shreds by a supervisor!) of the literature review and it is taking more of a discursive chapter approach. I’ve been able to do quite a lot of reading on my subject area so I’m experience quite a bit of ‘flow’ with writing the different sections of it so far. Alas, I’ve had no feedback on the draft (only about 50% of the topic covered so far) so I have no idea if what I’m writing is necessary or important. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have ideas penned down anyway?

    Thanks for the advice on not worrying about a word limit and writing way over the limit in the first instance. That’s good. Gives me the confidence to not worry about the word count number stating back at me in Microsoft Word!

    User: CH01 - 09 February 2021 03:57

    Thanks for this Michael. Will make a cup of tea and read these articles now! Legend. Really appreciate the response.

    User: Shortbread - 09 February 2021 09:42

    I can see that you have already received great suggestions from other members of this forum. I just wanted to stress the importance of taking notes while reading. A PhD project typically takes several years to complete and you are very like to forget useful sources as time goes by. I would suggest that you take notes and include some significant quotes (remember to include the page numbers so that you will be able to trace them back later!). I would organise your notes so that you can easily find them, subdivide them by topic/sub-topics. You won't have a good idea of what you are looking for right now but you will be able to refine these labels/categorisation of the sources as you proceed with defining your project. I have heard great things about software like Endnote or Zotero, which manage your bibliographical resources. I personally subdivided my notes in different folders on my laptop. If you use software make sure to save your work in multiple places so that you do not lose everything if the system crashes (remote possibility but better to avoid it).
    My supervisor suggested that I wrote an annotated bibliography, including all key sources and explaining in a few lines what each one of them was about and why I thought it was relevant for my work. I did that periodically and it helped me a lot refining my project and clarifying my ideas.
    The literature review will grow with you and your project. Keep that in mind when you choose how to approach. You will need to continue adding to it, modifying it and discarding parts that are no longer relevant. Anyway, I recommend not to delete any parts, as these may become relevant later or for other projects. You never know.
    All the best.

    User: CH01 - 09 February 2021 09:57

    Great recommendations here! Thank you. I really like the idea of an annotated bibliography and will start doing this from now on. Great suggestion. Especially, as you mentioned, as the years go on I’m likely to forget which journal articles will serve me best in the literature review.

    As naive as this sounds, once you write the literature review, say in year 1, do you continually add to it as new research comes out? So it essentially keeps evolving over the 4 years?

    User: Shortbread - 09 February 2021 21:14

    Hi again,
    I am glad you found these ideas helpful. Yes, from my experience, it never stops growing and evolving. Your work needs to be as up-to-date as possible. Clearly, it will evolve more in certain periods than in others, depending on your understanding of the topic, your ideas and publications available (just to mention a few key factors) but it keeps evolving. I added a few new sources just before my final submission.
    Best of luck!

    User: phdassistance23 - 24 December 2022 11:32

    In most scientific domains, literature reviews are in high demand. Their requirement derives from the growing volume of scientific publications. For example, compared to 1991, three, eight, and forty times more publications on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity were indexed in the Web of Science in 2008. Scientists cannot be expected to evaluate in depth every new publication relevant to their interests in the face of such mountains of documents. As a result, relying on periodical summaries of recent research is useful and required. Although original research is the primary source of recognition for scientists, timely literature assessments can lead to fresh synthetic discoveries and are frequently extensively read. However, for such summaries to be meaningful, they must be professionally produced.

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