Monday, 14 November 2011
For Module 2 you are expected to review at least three pieces of literature. The reason for this is to find out what contributions others have made to the topic of you inquiry. If you were planning a holiday you would want to know what others had said about your intended destination. Likewise, finding out what others have had to say about your topic will inform you more and give you greater knowledge about your topic. Once you have located the literature – see Paula’s slideshow on her recent blog about how to get find it – the point is to work out what the key point of the piece of literature is and what contribution it’s making to your topic. The review should go beyond mere regurgitation of the piece and here your voice comes in. Bringing in your voice should relate the piece you are reviewing to your topic. For instance, what angle does it take? Are there any questions which arise from it? Are there any obvious flaws in it? Can you make a judgement about the author’s point of view? Is it clear how they came to this point of view? In bringing in your voice you should avoid the word “Interesting”. This word is in danger of becoming meaningless from overuse.
It’s rare to find a truly objective piece of literature in the social sciences. Authors’ opinions are formed from personal / political beliefs and it’s a skill that comes from practice to identify their particular standpoint. While standpoints are inevitable it’s a useful skill to be able to recognize their point of view. Similarly, authors may have been commissioned to carry out an evaluation / research. Who pays for this research can also influence their stance. Newspapers in the UK can be viewed as a stark example of this. Taking a news item it’s illuminating to see how the same event is reported in different newspapers.
Years ago, I heard an amusing analysis of UK newspapers which has a grain of truth in it.
• The Times is read by the people who run the country.
• The Financial Times is read by the people who own the country.
• The Guardian is read by people who wished they ran the country.
• The Daily Telegraph is read by people who used to run the country and believe they still do.
• The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country … and so on.
Finding the literature is fun and requires your best detective skills, thinking around the topic and identifying search terms and thinking of alternative words and key terms which can help in the search. One useful way of doing this is to draw out a mind map with your topic in the centre. What other questions emanate from the centre of your mind map – and hence what other terms should you be looking for? When you have located the relevant literature, you should scan and then read more deeply the piece, making notes if this helps. Then, try to sum up in one sentence what the key point of the piece is. The more literature you gather, there could be similarities or themes emerging, or there could be divergences and differences to note.
The Literature Review is an important part of the journey of discovery in your topic questions and what is learned from it will add weight and substance to your work.