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Research Methods in
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8
Completing a Literature Review
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Teaching and Learning Objectives
to understand why researchers undertake
literature reviews
2. to consider the various search processes to
access published () information
3. to learn how to structure and present a
literature review
1.
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Why carry out a Literature Review?
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to establish the state of current ‘knowledge’ – or
argument – about your research topic
‘knowledge’ includes views, concepts, theories,
understanding, evidence, schools of thought, schisms,
claims, criticisms, main authors and authorities
identify ‘knowns’, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown
unknowns’ (Rumsfeld, 2003), gaps in the literature,
overlaps
ensure that your research is original
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Common Problems
potential unending displacement activity
 weak analysis of material
 poor synthesis
 merely descriptive chronology
 over-long, boring, timid
 lacking original criticism
 failing to identify gaps and overlaps
 losing interest of examiners and readers
 plagiarism
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Objective
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to identify, criticise and synthesise the most
recent, relevant, authoritative texts
note: the review may take up to a third of your
time and a third of your research report.
growth of texts available makes selective
approach essential
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Searching the Literature: Where to Begin
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key texts cited in course modules
core texts
texts cited by their authors
bibliographic databases of journals, e.g.: ASSIA,
BIDS, British Humanities Index, IBSS, PAIS, Social
Sciences Citation Index (SSCI)
Internet using RDN, Intute and SOSIG. Masters and
doctoral dissertations should be listed in RDN
official records via National Archives and Freedom of
Information Act
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Reading the Literature
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‘You don’t read books; you gut them; it’s the gist
you’re after. If you feel that an author has nothing
important to say, drop him’.
read selectively: begin with abstract: if relevant then:
introduction, conclusion, selected chapters
 give priority to most recent, refereed journal articles
 maintain rolling bibliography
 keep brief records of texts including citation, subjects,
scope, arguments, findings, key passages
 card or electronic format
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writing the literature review
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continuing process of refining distillation, analysis and synthesis
many re-writes
avoid chronological, descriptive reviews
concentrate on ideas and contributions rather than authors
provide original criticism of arguments
integrate and differentiate the literature into distinct groups and
schools
try tabulating arguments into schools and sub-topics to identify
main differences, conflicts, overlaps and gaps
try charting the development of ideas, (e.g. western philosophy on
property ownership shown overleaf)
provide full referencing using Harvard or other system consistently,
adding footnotes and end-notes
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Period
Common
Ownership
500BCE - 0
0 – 999CE
God and Church
Plato (Republic)
375
Seneca (48)
Early Christian
Church
1000 – 1499
Inclosure begins
1500 - 1999
State
Early Christian
Church
Early Christian
Church
Albertus Magnus
(1206-80)
Moore (1516)
Levellers (1646)
Paine (1796)
Jacobins (1797)
Proudhon (1840)
Owen (1840)
Spencer (1884)
Communism
Erasmus (1511)
God and King
Personal
Ownership
Aristotle (384322)
Cicero (106-43)
Plato (Laws)
St Augustine (354430)
Rufinus (1158)
William of Ockham
(1285-1347)
St Thomas Aquinas (122474)
Fortesque (1470)
Luther (1535) Calvin (1559)
Grotius (1625)
Filmer (1680)
Marx/ Engels
(1848)
Fascism,
Democratic
Socialism
Research Methods in Politics: Chapter 8
Ponet (1556)
Melanchthon
(1521)
Hobbes (1651)
Locke (1690)
Hume (1739)
Smith (1776)
Burke (1790)
Hegel (1821)
George Mill
(1848)
Maine (1873)
Libertarianism
‘Property-Owning
Democracy’
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At the end of the first draft, ask yourself:
• Has the literature search revealed all the main sources? How do you
know?
• Has the search identified those texts that are the most relevant,
authoritative and recent?
• How?
• Have you ‘gutted’ the most important texts and uncovered their ‘gists’?
• In writing the literature review, have you been able to organise the texts
into distinct schools or approaches?
• Have you clearly identified the agreements between different schools,
their disagreements, overlaps and, crucially, gaps in the literature?
• Have you identified and evaluated the key criticisms already made by
commentators?
• Have you provided original, penetrating and pungent criticism?
• In your criticism, have you clearly identified what is ‘known’, contested
and ‘unknown’?
• Finally, have you clearly identified the theoretical perspective to be
adopted, the contested area or gap in the literature to be addressed in the
fieldwork, and a refined hypothesis to test?
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Questions for Discussion or Assignments
1.
You have been asked to undertake a literature review on ‘social
exclusion in the UK’ (or another topic set by your teacher).
Describe how you would undertake the literature search and the
priority to be given to particular sources. How would you ‘read’
the relevant texts? What records would you make of the key texts
and how? Describe the structure of your literature review
2.
Select a literature review from a journal article. Review it critically.
How would you improve how it was written and presented?
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