Slow down you move too fast – Literature reviews

I met with a small group of BSc (Hons) students today to talk about their dissertations. Eight thousand words to select and craft in just over 6 months instills a sense of urgency, and, I’m encouraging them to ‘slow down.’ I could see the disbelief and panic etched on their faces as they’re keen to get going. After all, it’s just one of many assignments they’re currently juggling. I’ve overheard some in the wider student group state that they’ve already got most of the articles they need, so imagine how my little group felt. I hope going through some of the plentiful information they have and sharing a few tips has helped allay some of  their initial concerns.We did this:

  1. Reviewed the suggested word count and chapter/section headings. The identification of sections/chapters and allocating suggested word counts really helps those of us who are ‘frightened’ into non-action because we need to write 8,000 words! Chunking it down really helps as you can focus your writing and chapters/sections seem more achievable:

 Abstract – 250 words

Introduction – 800 words (standard stuff – approx. 10% of assignment length) –    explain  how your review is organised, give brief historical/contemporary context,  concise  reference to existing research, outline the research problem/question,  justification and  signpost structure.

Methodology – 2,400 words – search strategy, method of appraisal and analysis of       the  literature.

Literature study – 3,200 wordspresentation of results and themes including critical appraisal.   Also, here I explained how this is not presented as a list of literature summaries as Pat Thompson explains in her blog ‘Beware the list.’

 Discussion – 1,400 words – summary of results.

 Conclusions – 800 words – again, standard stuff of 10% of assignment length.

I’ve added to the original information with helpful suggestions by Helen Aveyard and         Diana Ridley (in italics).

2. We talked about forgetting. Forgetting you’ve read an article and even made highlighting and margin marks. It happens to us all.  My little tip here is to create notes or mindmaps as you’re reading and attaching them to each article. You can always add to them when you re-read it. We talked about reading each research article at least 6 times.

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3. This brought us to the topic of reading. I suggested you skim read initially as you have lots of articles, reports etc., and really don’t need to read them all at the same detailed level. I don’t recall who suggested this strategy of reading the abstract, headings, first and last sentence of each paragraph and then the summary of articles and chapters within books. I think it was either De Bono or Tony Buzan. Anyway, this is usually enough for you to decide whether you need to read the chapter/article more carefully. Pat Thompson also has some suggestions for reading in her blog ‘Scan reading.’

There’s also the SQ3R technique:

Survey the text to get the general idea

Question – think about questions you’d like the text to answer

Read the text carefully if you think it’s pertinent to your research

Recall the main points immediately after reading

Review the text – and add to your notes or mindmap

You’ll find more suggestions on reading the literature in Diana Ridley’s Ch. 4.

The sources I’ve referred to are:

Diana Ridley’s ‘The Literature Review‘ and Helen Aveyard’s ‘Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care.’

And there’s more:

Types of traditional lit reviews

Shut up and read by Helen Kara

University of Leicester

Loughborough University

Birmingham City University

University of Reading


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