The Literature Review: Organising and analysing

Evaluate the information

Before you start searching for literature you need to establish a strategy for making a critical evaluation of the quality of the research. You are expected to use high-quality, scholarly research in your review only. Ask yourself;

  • is this paper authoritative?
  • Is it peer-reviewed?
  • Has it been highly-cited?
  • Is there a possible conflict of interest? 

Documenting your search

It is good practice to keep a record of your search results, methodology and search strategy, to save yourself time and effort and to allow other people to follow-up on your sources.

Write up your search methodology

By providing details about the approach you used when searching, you should give enough detail for someone else to reproduce the same or similar results. Your search methodology should include:
  • where you searched (for example, database names)
  • when you did your searches (for example, date viewed or retrieved)
  • limits you applied to your searches (for example, date of publication, language, document type)
  • who you contacted (for example, individuals, organisations)
Write up your search strategy
Search strategies are often included as an appendix to a literature review and should give enough detail for someone else to reproduce the same or similar results. Your search strategy should include:
  • how you searched (e.g. keywords and/or subjects)
  • search terms used (e.g. words and phrases)
  • search techniques used (e.g. nesting, truncation, etc.)
  • how you combined searches (e.g. AND / OR / NOT)
Record your results
You may want to record results for all of your searches - this may be included as part of your search methodology or search strategy. This will help you and your readers to determine how much information may already be available on a specific subject and/or how effective your search strategies were.
 
Many journal databases have extra functionality that allows you to save your searches as well as results to help you track how effective your strategies are. For more information on developing a search strategy and capturing your searches, make an appointment with your College Librarian.

Adapted from:

Leeds University Library 2014, Documenting your search, University of Leeds, viewed 29 July 2014, <http://library.leeds.ac.uk/researcher-literature-search-documenting>.

Reading and analysis

Once you are decided on your terms of analysis, you may want to set-up a framework to ensure that you record information sources consistently. Using a form like the one shown in the example below will ensure that you have consistent information for each piece of literature reviewed, enabling you to find gaps in the existing research as well as highlighting any key themes for you to investigate further as they emerge.

The aim with this part of the review is to create a snapshot of how the different authors you've identified approach the issues you're interested in; through this snapshot you want to be able to quickly and easily find the important elements of each source. You need to be consistent in noting the key elements of any source you have identified:

Article reference

Full citation in required style

Scope

What is it about?

Key themes/ quotes

This is to assist your future writing giving yourself a reference point to use in your paper

Methodology

How did the authors get their information?

Theory

Which theory(ies) are applied by the author?

Other elements

How appropriate is the source to my research? - This is important as methods and ideas identified may be of use for further searches, even if the main content is not related to your research.

Who is this article aimed at? – academics, students, teachers, general public

How reputable is the medium in which the information was published?

  • Is it peer-reviewed?
  • What are the author's qualifications?
  • If you are reviewing a newspaper article, is it refereed or is it an opinion piece?
  • If you are using books or book chapters who is the publisher?
  • Are the authors linked to a university or research institute?

 

The bibliographic software, Endnote, can be used to help with this process of keeping a record of these key elements along with each reference. To find out more about which tools can be utilised to help in the literature review process, consult the Literature Review Toolbox tab.

Critical Appraisal

Critical appraisal is the process whereby the research methods used in a study are assessed to determine how reliable its results are likely to be. The following are critical appraisal tools that act as checklists to help you assess any potential sources of bias in the research study:

Note, if you decide to use one of the above checklists/appraisal tools in the analysis stage of your literature review, you should cite it.