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This content is taken from the University of Wollongong's online course, Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 16 seconds As a student and as a realised academic, maybe I think I’m good at literature. But then when I saw this HDR writing course then I realised there are so many things myself to explore, with things I don’t know exactly. So there’s techniques and how to use technology properly because we don’t have much time. A PhD is defined for 3 and 1/2 years. So I need to finish. I don’t have much time. So therefore, I need to be specific. I need to use technology properly. For that, definitely, I need guidance and a good teacher. For me I found it useful to get some guidance to do anything. Because I can always learn from what others have experienced.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds And I can always get myself improved and I will always get help from a course or a teacher. Absolutely. Yeah, even if it’s just to say you’re not meant to know how to do this. You’re learning as you go. And you don’t really know the shape of it until you’re pretty much there. And it’s that sort of not knowing that is torture when you’re trying to do something like that. I would say that literature review is a mixed process. You can, of course, go and read and review different methodologies and different ways how we search the literature. However, having a supervisor and having a teacher’s guidance cuts down the chase. And you save a lot of time.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds Do I see the need for instruction in how to put together a literature review? I certainly do. As students, particularly in engineering, have been schooled in their technical discipline to quite a high level, we probably haven’t put as much emphasis on the writing skills. Probably not enough on the research methodology skills. And so I think the need for a course which will guide the students through the options for writing their literature review and explaining the purpose and the importance of the literature review, I think that’s a no brainer. We should definitely have it. Everyone can benefit from instruction in how to do a proper literature review regardless of whether they’re students or academics.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 seconds There are good ways and less good ways of writing a literature review. And just having somebody remind you of what those are is really helpful. There is no doubt in my mind that it helps to have instruction in writing a literature review because it’s a really difficult thing to do. Even as a sort of mid or senior scholar I find the literature review still can be quite difficult. And it’s an uncommon sense way of writing. It’s specialised. It’s technical. And it’s different for different disciplines. So I think it’s really helpful to students when there’s instruction around how to do it.

Skip to 3 minutes and 22 seconds You know, I think we can do a better job actually at teaching critical thinking and critical analysis at the undergraduate level so that students are better equipped when they reach the postgraduate level to do these things, to engage with the literature in that kind of way. And to then write literature reviews and write critical pieces. I think that’s a role for all different kinds of resources. I think there’s a role for online resources, for one-to-one support, for peer support. I think we just need to kind of cover as many ways as we can to support students in the different styles of learning and to also reinforce the learning that happens in different ways.

To teach or not to teach?

Speeding up the process

Compared to the sorts of essays and reports you might write at undergraduate level, research writing is generally expected to consider and critically compare more sources. And in gathering sources of information, the research writer is also expected to define for themselves what constitutes a valid body of literature to read and discuss, to frame a serious investigation that will produce new knowledge. So the task here is not simply to find information and use it to develop an argument or show some understanding of a topic. The aim in doing a literature review for research purposes is to consider the work of other researchers as a body of knowledge, which provides context for further research.

Generations of researchers have been learning how to do research and how to write about it by just doing it, and getting feedback along the way - so why are we even teaching this? One reason is that there have been some very significant changes to universities over the past decade or so, and there is more pressure to complete research programs quickly. At the same time, there are more people participating in higher education, and in research. And there is now also much more movement of students around the world, and much greater diversity in students’ prior experience of academic learning and writing. These are some of the factors making everyone feel a need to be very explicit about what is expected in research writing.

In the video, research students and academics share their thoughts on the need to teach new researchers how to do a literature review. As you listen, think about what motivated you to enrol in this course.

Conversation starter

  • Why do you feel the need for instruction on how to do a literature review?
  • Do you think it will speed up your process?
  • Do you think essays and reports written at undergraduate level use sources of information sources differently to what is expected in higher level research writing?

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This video is from the free online course:

Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review

University of Wollongong