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Survey and Evaluate the Literature
At this point in the literature review process, you have:
- Selected a topic
- Done an initial broad literature search and reading to refine your topic
- Done a second, narrower literature search for sources relevant to your topic.
Now comes one of the harder stages of the process, surveying and evaluating the literature. Most of us know how to survey the literature - read and understand the context of a topic - but evaluating the literature can be challenging if you haven't done it before.
Approach each source in three stages:
- Skim the abstract or sections of the source to determine if it's relevant to your topic. Note: you need to include sources that challenge or contradict your research question and then explain why your approach is still justified.
- Read the article for general understanding if it is relevant
- Read a second time to summarize and evaluate the source; defintely take notes at this stage
Here are key elements to note when summarizing, or surveying sources:
- Research questions
- Key findings
Here are some critical questions to ask when evaluating sources:
- What are the origins and definitions of the topic?
- What are the key theories, concepts, and ideas?
- What are the major debates, arguments, and issues?
- What is the methodology? Is it appropriate for the research topic and was it conducted properly?
- What evidence is there for any claims or conclusions made in the source?
- What are the key questions and problems that have been addressed to date?
- Are there any important issues that have been insufficiently addressed to date?
- Does the source have implications for your proposed research?
- What impact does a source have on your thinking?
Notes on each source are invaluable and timesaving when you're finally writing your literature review. Here a couple of tips for making effective notes:
- write enough that you can understand your notes later
- note page numbers where you found key points
- make sure to differentiate whether you are quoting or paraphrasing the source
The books listed under the Resources tab contain many other strategies for effective note-taking.