I believe many are simply afraid of the mention of ‘literature review’. I used to be one, literally wanted to hide myself under a blanket and hoped the literature review (LR) would either write itself or just go away. In reality, none of these would ever happen, unfortunately. If I don’t start reading and trying to write, the LR will never get finished. Without LR, my research just won’t happen either. Simply, I would be stuck…forever and ever…
No, that’s not going to happen in this life. I have learned after some practices and many good advice that LR is not so scary after all. Today, I would only describe LR as tedious and full of hard work but not the most scary part in dissertation writing. All I need, I realize, is a good system to make things work for me.
One of the greatest problem in LR is the amount of articles to read in order to write. By collecting all related articles and seeing them unread in my Mendeley library are already good enough to scare me witless. Sometimes I just keep on reading articles, achieving nothing but only some new ideas from the authors. This just doesn’t work well for my progress in the final submission. So, I have learned to get my thoughts organized and set my focus in LR. It’s always good to remember what I’m looking for while reading an article. I normally look at a few aspects in a topic while reading an article: definition, purposes, characteristics, approaches, rationales and challenges. For every article I read, I only focus on these aspects and try to see what the author has to say about them (if they even mention them). It’s important to note if the authors agree or disagree on certain aspects when compare to others. I collect all these in LR matrix for easy reference later. Whatever the authors’ point of views that related to my research, I want them in my LR to show as evidence or support alongside with my own arguments. It’s always good to show comparisons or similarities between authors’ point of views. That’s where the debate or argument can be further discussed with new insight.
I also learned to categorize my LR by topics as I don’t think all articles cover everything I want to say in my LR. So, I have different LR matrices for different topics, though they are interrelated somehow. By putting them in different matrices make it easy for me to discuss topic by topic and to show how they related from one topic to another when I’m writing my own synthesis. It’s important not trying to cramp everything in one too. Not only I will get lost in my own thoughts or arguments, I’m sure my readers will be lost too. Most importantly, always have focus while reading and always take note. Reading without taking note will only waste time. I normally read fast the first time trying to get the overview. My second read will be together with note-taking in Mendeley Desktop. I conclude my reading and note-taking by copying my notes into my LR matrix. I start to write about the topic when I have enough support from the articles I read and according to the aspects that I collected. During the writing process, it’s much easier referring to the LR matrix as I know which author is saying what and how I use their points as the base for my own argument. Citation is easier too especially if there are more than 1 author say the same thing.
All in all, I hope my opinion about LR here is good enough to help you if you feel stuck with LR too. All you need is just a system that works for you. Feel free to try my method or any other good methods out there. Just explore and try everything until you find one that works for you 🙂