Category Archives: Academia

Introspection following a literature review

I’ve just submitted the first paper for my graduate studies – a literature review. Having not yet taken the (mandatory) research methods module offered as part of my program and having spent 2 of the ~4 weeks I had to work on the paper travelling and at conferences – I am left with the feeling that I’ve not done as well as I’d like. Though I’m happier with the paper than I was 24hrs before the submission deadline I’m trying to analyse my process and work out the kinks.

My basic process for this paper was:

  1. Choose a rough topic (we had a choice of two from the module leader).
  2. Find ~15-20 papers on this topic – collect them with some paper managing software and (automatically) tag them with related metadata.
  3. Start reading papers.
    1. Take notes whilst reading the paper.
    2. As soon as possible after reading the paper write a quick summary/review.
    3. Note interesting referenced papers and add them to the collection.
  4. Stop at 11 papers, reject one as not good enough to include in the review.
  5. Figure out a layout for the review based on the themes of the reviewed papers.
  6. Transpose the summary/review pieces into the paper layout.
  7. Iterate over the paper fleshing out the summary/reviews and determining some form of conclusion.
  8. Conclude – in this case pretty poorly.
  9. More iterations for flow, grammar, style, etc. until the deadline arrives.

I think my biggest mistakes were:

  • Curating most of the papers to review before starting to read – I think I could curate a set of papers with a higher correlation, that therefore lead to a stronger conclusion, by starting with a smaller set of papers and utilising more of the references in those papers.
  • Not giving myself enough time to actually pull the reviews together – this wasn’t a conscious decision, mind you.

Having not written a real paper before (discounting any undergraduate efforts) and missing the techniques from the research methods class I’m curious to hear how other folks handle such work?

P.S: my first real use of LyX, what a great program!