How to write your literature review

Keeping track of your reading

when you've finished this page you will be able to...


Top tip...

Reference management software (like EndNote), is a useful tool for making a list of the references you use. It also makes compiling a list of references or bibliography much easier.

At this point, you know your literature review should demonstrate that you've read and understood the important and influential work in your research area, and that you must only include studies that are directly relevant to your research. There's a vast amount of literature out there, and you need to be discerning when deciding what to read. This is where a good knowledge of how to use reference databases (Web of Knowledge, MEDLINE etc.) comes in useful.

Top tip...

You should define the scope - what you're going to include and what you're going to leave out - of your review carefully to avoid wasting time reading irrelevant studies.

Once you've identified the relevant literature, it's vital to make good notes while you read - it will save you an awful lot of time later. There's little worse than remembering a fascinating article you read earlier, but not remembering where you read it.

For the activity below you'll need:

Activity: Keeping a record of your reading - 5 minutes

You should create an entry in your reading record each time you read something new.

1. Divide the first page of your notepad, or a filing card, into 3 columns.

2. Title the first column Reference.

3. Title the second column Notes.

4. Title the third column Quotations.

5. For an illustration of what your record might look like, take a look at the example below - it was made by a student writing a literature review for an education project.

Keep your record up-to-date - you'll be glad of it when you come to write your review.

Education project literature review record
Reference Notes Quotes
1. Wiles, P. (1988) 'Teaching children in hospital' British Journal for Special Education. 15(4):158-62 In-depth study, 50+ hospitals in UK and US. Teachers make hospital stays more pleasant. "For all children of whatever age, teachers can make the world of the hospital an exciting one where significant learning can take place" pg. 59
2. Gabbay, M., V. Cowie, et al (2000) 'Too ill to learn: double jeopardy for sick children' Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 93:114-117 Sick children miss out on education and suffer education disadvantage. "Without education, sick children are further disadvantaged, and they, their families and society continue to count the financial and social costs for generations" pg. 116

Recommended Further Reading

In the next section, we'll look at how to use the literature to give context and support to your research question.

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