engaging in your literature review

It is timely to have a little chat about chapter 2, the literature review.  This builds on the stuff we were talking about in the campus sessions (which hopefully everyone there has started to blog about!)

For me, the research questions you are working on are always bought into a sharp focus in terms of the literature search and review (LR).  The LR tells the story of why your project is important and valuable.  By the end of reading your LR, your reader should know exactly why you are finding out what you have chosen to research.  Can I give you an amount to read?  Not really!  As this is under-graduate, a good sampling of literature would assist you to build an argument for your research.  It will also ensure that you are not just doing what someone else has already completed or researched.

You can try using a website called Google scholar (http://scholar.google.com) which provides access to a large range of articles, conference papers etc.  If you go into Google scholar through the library site listed below, you will access to more of Google scholar.  If there are articles there that sound really interesting and you can’t get access (much of the current selection of academic work is protected for paying customers) you might be able to access the paper or article through the MU library site.  Access is secured by a process called Athens…your Athens password is the same one you use to log into the 24/7 portal for your email.

All of this can be completed off-site and you don’t have to come to the library.  You can also access books and other materials if you do use the MU library service at any of our campuses.

Here is the link for the Middlesex University library site


If you want a practical guide to how to construct a literature review, have a read through this site; http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/Resources/research-Education/research%20education/Online%20resources/Support%20materials/Literature%20review.htm

It is a very comprehensive article by the University of South Australia that covers the whole range of literature reviews (right up to a PhD) so don’t get too freaked out at the scope of the review.  They key suggestions about format and how to approach a literature review are really important for you.  The completion of a good LR can save a whole lot of effort further down the track, and makes your findings potentially so much more rigorous.  This is an important word, rigour.  You can going to make conclusions based on your research and those conclusions might change the way you undertake or manage your professional practice.  The better and the more reliable and valid you make your findings, the more rigorous your conclusions will be.

Stencil art, Lisbon

Think about a story, you start with a broad topic and then slowly build a picture with more detail, so for each of your topics, start telling your story (backed by literature) and then filter it down so that I as the reader understand the area you are researching (nutrition, teaching etc), you specific interest in that area, and then what other people have said or researched about your area of interest.

Finally, I want to have a chat about how you manage your references.

When researching, we often use a variety of sources of information.  All of those sources need to be included in your reference list at the end of your submitted work.  At Middlesex we use the Harvard system of referencing (see your module handbook for a more detailed discussion of this).  One of the most annoying and fiddling tasks in writing is the putting together of your reference list and the citing of works inside your essay or assignment.

This process can be made much easier by the use of citation software such as RefWorks or EndNote or the ‘references’ tab within Office 2007.  These packages work with your word processor to allow you to ‘cite while you write’ putting in the correct format of in-text reference and then building your reference list in the right format.

Most of these programs also work with databases that contain articles, papers, references and the like.  Most of these databases will have an ‘export to citation manager’ button or option, and will fill in all the fields of the reference for you, without you typing a word.

One you get the hang of the way they work, you can keep your reference library and use is for all your scholarly work.  The effort comes in getting the data into the database each time you choose to cite a piece of work, but the pay off comes from a perfectly formatted reference list, accurate citations inside your work and the warm fuzzy glow that comes from knowing that you will never have to type the name and title of that book or article ever again, it will in your database until you choose to delete it!

Here is a link to a PowerPoint slide set on how to use a citation manager such as RefWorks.


For more information and a free copy of refworks for your computer, go to this link http://libguides.mdx.ac.uk/content.php?pid=62332&sid=458751#

Don’t get too hung up about using a citation manager, but it may help to keep track of things and make doing your reference list at the end much easier!

ignite talks about the way you can use data

ignite is a global movement that brings people together to share insights and cool thoughts about important topics.  The last one was held in London a few weeks ago.Here is a really interesting 5 min presentation from the last London ignite on the dangers in using data to represent your findings, it message, statistics can say anything, so its always a good idea to think about how you use them!

Doing Good With Data by Nene Harrison from hurryonhome on Vimeo.

evaluating your topic

A research problem, once defined, is not ready to be solved straight away.  A researcher must understand the nature of the problem.  We need to look at what is influencing the problem.

Here are some key approaches to understanding the problem.

1.  Problems don’t have to look at the past.  They can investigate the current or future situation.

An example of a past problem
What impact did warm-ups have on the level and types of injury experienced by dance students?

An example of a future problem
If I changed from warm up A to warm up B would this decrease injuries?

2. Problems don’t have to focus on something that is wrong; they can investigate why something went right!

3. Problems don’t have to be positive or negative; they can simply be an exploration or discovery of a situation.  They can answer questions like how, why, who, when and where.

A researcher must have a good understanding of their problem.  There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a research project and finding you haven’t actually answered any of your questions nor have you solved the actual problem.

Having a good understanding of the problem also helps you develop a clear focus and direction for your research, as well as uncovering problems and variables that need to be measured within the research.

Evaluating your topic…

It’s great to see a lot of you starting to think carefully about the topics and problems you want to research.  A lot more will become clear after the next workshop, both in person and on the blogs as we start to explore the tools and techniques you can use to investigate the problem.  Placing the problem in the context of a research design (the way you plan to collect information and make informed conclusions about your topic or problem) will often offer you some more insight into whether your problem is suitable to research.

Before we start that, here are some really simple measures you can think of when critically evaluating your topic choice…

1. So what?
Sounds like a rude question, but it is a really important part of research.  You have decided to research and investigate this really relevant area, you think it is really interesting and exciting and it is a burning question you have had on your mind for years, but ask yourself the question; so what?

• So what does this research mean to my industry/sector?
• So what does this mean for my practice?
• Does anyone else care what I find out?

I might find out all the reasons why my hair is going grey, but so what? Who cares? Sure, I do…(it means I am getting old!) but is it really something I want to share with the world, make public through my research and blog.  This is the time to take an impassionate look at what you are thinking of researching and ask, so what?

2.  Avoid ‘nice to know’ research
Linked to the previous question is the idea of the importance of the research.  When I read articles or books about the areas of research I try and decide whether the article is central to what I am researching (core), relevant but not essential (non-core) and my favourite category, interesting but not relevant (IBNR).  Ask yourself the same basic questions about your area of research, is the topic core to the practices of my industry, or core to my practice…is the topic relevant, interesting, perhaps explores an aspect of yours or others practice, or is it just ‘nice to know’, interesting, but not relevant to your own practice and the practice of others.  I have always wanted to know about what a certain song was about, is it something I will share with others? Sometimes yes, but in most cases no..it is interesting, but not relevant!

3. Is the research ‘done to death’?
Has this topic been researched before so extensively that you can’t add anything new or interesting?  A good example is motivation theory.  Research into why people learn to dance or why people attend dance as an audience is extensive and very detailed.  There are literally thousands of research studies, reports, books, articles and papers that explore this topic.  What can your research add that the other pieces of research haven’t already done?  Step 1 of this is to try and read the key pieces of research in this area first.  How do you identify these? A simple idea (though not foolproof by any means) is to look at google scholar and see how many times an article has been cited in other research.  Step 2; search as widely as possible in databases using key words about your topic.  Rotate those key words around each time you search.  Use tools such as “ “ for phrases such as “participation in the arts”.

4. Does it stimulate your imagination and passion?
A really simple one, do you get excited about the topic? If I was sitting in the room and you wanted to talk about it, how quickly would you get bored?

5. Is it bleeding obvious?
I call this the ‘oh, derr’ question after the phrase I used to use as a kid when someone told me something so obvious it was painful!  Is the research so obvious, so simple that it isn’t worth reseraching? On the other hand, this test often identifies research that we should should be looking at rather than just assuming.  Apply the ‘bleeding obvious’ test to the list below from the Times in 2008…

— Students who watch hundreds of television adverts for junk food are more likely to eat snacks of unhealthy food and put on weight, according to the University of Alberta’s centre for health promotion studies
— Call centre staff who try to be your friend by using your name – dubbed synthetic personalisation – are irritating, concluded Oxford University researchers
— Parents whose children will not eat vegetables can succeed in disguising them in other dishes by mushing them up, according to research by Penn State University
— Men prefer blondes, says research by a team of Polish psychologists on the perception of hair colour in women over 35
— Children who lack confidence are more likely to grow up to be overweight, according to a team at Southampton University’s School of Medicine
— Heaps of long string always end up in knots, discovered the University of California at San Diego’s physics department, when scientists put string in a box and shook it
— Impulsive, risk-taking and thrill-seeking drug takers are more likely to become addicts, found Cambridge University researchers
— People are better at work when they exercise, a Leeds Metropolitan University study revealed

Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article5375515.ece