Review by Hernán Piñera, Attribution-ShareAlike Licence
This article by Will Hopkins gives some very practical advice about structuring a literature review. Although some parts of it refer to specific requirements of the journal he is writing for, there is a lot of good advice here that you won’t go wrong following. There is a very good section on assessing the quality of the published work and one on interpreting effects.
Hopkins WG (1999) How to write a literature review, Sportscience 3(1), http://sportsci.org/jour/9901/wghreview.html
Critical thinking is an essential skill for researchers. Without critical thinking , your literature review will be just a summary of what others have said. Critical thinking enables you to evaluate the evidence of reported findings, and the opinions of experts. It enables you to gather information and assess its relevance to a question. It enables you to explore other points of view and form your own ideas. And it also enables you to consider the implications of findings and integrate these in your evaluation.
In this video from the University of Technology, Sydney, David Sotir discusses how to apply critical thinking skills to writing and research.
Outbreak! by Russell Ede, Attribution-NonCommercial License
Epidemiology is the study of disease in populations. Epidemiological studies can give us useful information about the likelihood of disease, the performance of tests, the efficacy and safety of treatments and the outcomes and prognosis. This article from the British Medical Journal provides a framework for evaluating epidemiological studies in terms of bias, chance, and evidence for causation.
In this video Dr George Patton from Waldon University argues that reviewing the literature is not the purpose of a literature review, but rather, that its purpose is to gain an understanding of the history of research in your area so you can situate your own ideas and research. All research, even on unique topics, is built on knowledge that has come before. This may be knowledge of “facts” and processes but also knowledge of research and diagnostic methods. As you “review” you need to be thinking about the history of the research in your field, who the key researchers are, and how ideas and methods have developed over time. You will learn much about the processes of research and where the gaps and inconsistencies are, from which you can draw your own conclusions about where your research or other future research should head.
Thanks to Pat Thomson, Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham and writer of the excellent blog Patter for alerting me to this video. You can read more from Pat about this video in her post here: all that reading? think of it as tracing your family tree.
Lego interpretation by coldpants Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License
In this posting Will Grant and Rod Lamberts from the Australian National University discuss 10 mistakes that we often make in interpreting research findings. Good things to bear in mind when you are drawing your own conclusions from the literature.
Gray Welsh Cob by bambe1964 Attribution-NoDerivs Licence
Conference proceedings and textbooks are often good sources to find out what experts are thinking in a discipline. Some conference proceedings also provide the early reports of new scientific findings that might be pertinent to your work. However you need to cite non-peer reviewed literature sparingly, if at all.
One time when you may wish to cite textbooks or conference proceedings is when you need to support statements about another author’s opinion. In that case make it clear that you are citing opinion and not empirical published observations. Another time is when the research is so new it is only available in a conference proceedings abstract. In this case be very sure that you have checked thoroughly for the peer-reviewed version of the publication and you should only be citing very recent conference abstracts in this case (less than 2 years old).
Remember to distinguish the peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed literature carefully in your review. The reader needs to be able to tell if you are citing non-peer reviewed material.
Any piece of academic writing needs an introduction and a conclusion. In long documents – like a thesis or dissertation – you also need smaller introductions and conclusions in each section. What should your introduction and conclusion say? This short checklist has some really helpful points about introductions and conclusions.
Good beginnings and endings, London School of Economics, Teaching and Learning Centre