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

http://libguides.mdx.ac.uk/content.php?hs=a&pid=62332

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.

http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/hsgsf/HSGSF%20October%20Academic%20-%20Refman%202006.ppt

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!