Library

15 March 2017

Your literature review - getting it done

Do you feel as if your literature review has a life of its own and you don't always know what it's up to? Anne Melles, a Subject Librarian and PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education, shares some of the insights she has gained (and is still gaining) from her experience of writing a literature review.



Writing a literature review is a bit like working with multiple pots on a stove that all need attention at the same time. Now, I know that there are too many analogies about the literature review out there, but I’m sharing this one as I found the concept useful when writing the literature review for my confirmation document, which I’ve just submitted. So, keep reading - you also might find it useful!

The idea of pots on a stovetop refers to the way that a literature review develops over time. This means that:
  • you don’t sit down and start writing the review at the beginning and work until you get to the end 
  • the review is a work in progress on multiple fronts (or a war on multiple fronts if you’re having a bad day!) 
  • the different sections of the review all speak to each other and so sometimes where your thinking ends up in one section means that things have to be rewritten in another section. 
Some sources that I had thought were significant at the beginning of my writing later turned out to be less important. I also found that I wrote about some sources with a completely different emphasis. This can sometimes be stressful and it may feel as if you’re trying to get your head around too many things at one time.

However, getting your literature review organised is a slow process. It helps to acknowledge and embrace the messiness of the whole business. Don’t try taming one section and then moving on to the next. Try to encourage conversations between the different parts of the literature review, and also between them and your research questions.

There are different ways of doing this. Sometimes when I found myself in a dead end in one section, I left it and looked at another section. I also found that drawing mind maps helped me get outside the writing and see a bigger picture. Looking back on previous mind maps also gave me an idea of the ways in which my thinking had changed. It also showed me how sometimes I’d just gone on a long wander in the literature wilderness only to end back at an idea I’d had months ago. This isn’t as bad as it sounds as I often found that I was then able to develop this more extensively and with more conviction.

So when it feels as if your pots are going to boil over or burn their contents, take a break: turn the elements on the stovetop off and try a different approach!



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