Once you’ve found your literature, you will need to read it critically and with purpose.
It’s important to read widely and from a variety of perspectives.
However, there’s going to be more to read than any one person can commit to in a lifetime. You’re going to need a strategy to effectively select what to read and then read it constructively.
Deciding what to read
Reading an entire paper takes a long time, and it’s not always necessary.
Although research papers come in many forms, most of them are divided into sections allowing you to read the most relevant information first.
Most papers include the following sections:
|Abstract||A brief summary of the paper|
|Background||Describes the problem, research aims and research questions|
|Literature review||Synthesises the relevant literature discussing the problem (sometimes part of the background)|
|Methods||Explains how the research team went about investigating the answer to their question|
|Results||What the research team found|
|Discussion||An explanation of the implications of the results and why they are important (occasionally part of the conclusion)|
|Conclusion||A concluding statement, summarising and highlighting the most important points of the paper|
|References||A list of all the information the research team has referred to in the paper|
Before you read the whole paper, read the title and abstract. If it seems relevant, move onto the introduction and conclusion. If it still seems relevant, read the sections that are most valuable to you or the full paper. Different sections will play a different role in answering your critical question as you read, as discussed below.
A literature review should survey ideas from different papers and provide a synthesised and highly relevant overview of an area. It should not attempt to summarise everything that’s ever been written on it.
You will need to provide a select overview of the most important perspectives, themes, debates and methods in the literature you have identified as relevant to your research problem.
One of the best ways to do so is to come up with some critical questions that are highly relevant to your research question and ask them as you read through several books and articles.
For example, you could ask ‘what are the economic factors that influence these results’ or ‘how has the author measured the effectiveness of the program?’
Different papers may give you a different answer to the same question. Your role is to compare and contrast them, analyse the material in the papers and connect the dots between them.
Spend a little bit of time coming up with one or more questions that are highly relevant to your research questions.
This might include questions about:
- the background to the problem
- the methods that can be used to investigate similar problems
- the author’s position on any debates that are relevant to the question you’re asking.
Let other learners know about your critical questions in the comments section. Look through others’ critical questions to see if they give you any ideas for more of your own.
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