Sunday, June 15, 2014

Digging for gold in the literature review

Another great question from a reader - and one that will certainly sound very familiar to all of you starting your research journey. Here's the question:

i want to start over research work on child labour, but i do not how i gather infomation and what is important and what is not, and to manage this information in proper way

So let's split up this question into its 3 part:

I do not know how I gather information

If you are starting with research, most likely your supervisor will give you at least something to get you started with reading. You can start your search for literature based on the references in the document(s) that you get from your supervisor, and then again look at the references in these references, and so on and so forth.
At the same time, I suggest you start to look for articles by searching based on key words (yours would be "child labor" and some additional search terms to help you refine your search) in search engines such as Scopus or Google Scholar. You might also want to make a trip to the library and see which books could be useful for you (and then check the references of these books).

What is important and what is not?

The answer to this questions depends on the following: Have you defined your research question already? If your research question is defined, then the important information is that which is relevant to your research question (although I'm a big fan of peripheral reading to broaden your knowledge in the field - you just read differently depending on how close the paper is related to your research question).
If your research question is not defined yet, and you need to explore the literature to look for an open end to find your topic in there, then you need to follow a different strategy. For this case, you will need to read much more broadly, and most likely interdisciplinary for starters. Then, you will need to be able to compare different analyses, and see where the authors seem to disagree. If there's disagreement amongst authors, you are getting into the pond of the research question fish. Carefully read to figure out why the authors are disagreeing, and which piece of information they are missing that causes them to disagree.

How to manage this information in a proper way

Don't start to make overview tables in Excel - that's unnecessary these days. There's a whole array of software tools that you can use to archive your literature sources in an easily accessible way. Moreover, once you start to use these tools, you will see that you can also use plug-ins to your word processor software, so that you can easily insert citations in the right style.

As a last tip that I can give you: don't sit and read for months on end. Read something, and then summarize this, and start writing. Writing helps you to sort out your ideas, and will produce a piece of work that you can take to your supervisor to discuss.


  1. This is great. I am going to be starting school in September for my PhD in Human Services. I'm doing all that I can to kind of get prepared for what's to come.

  2. Good luck Krystol! If you have questions, let me know for a Q&A post!