What kind of sources to include in your literature review

February 27, 2018

Graduate students who are unfamiliar with what is expected of them in terms of higher-level research writing can easily get overwhelmed when it comes to their literature review. A literature review can form part of a larger project, such as a chapter in a thesis or dissertation, and it can also be a standalone project. Regardless of whether it is part of a project or a standalone work, we (your professors) expect certain kinds of sources.

We learned what kinds of sources to include in literature reviews when we were students, but we are not always so good at articulating what those expectations are. The result can be frustration for both students and professors. In this post, I have curated tips and information that I have been sharing with graduate students over the past several years.

These tips are intended to be a guideline, not a prescription. They are based on my experience and include a healthy dose of my own opinion. For example, I am adamant that students should avoid citing Wikipedia in their research writing. I am also unapologetically opposed to quotation websites where students have been known to cut and paste quotations from great thinkers such as Aristotle or Plato. In my view, quotations for research writing ought to come from original works (or in a pinch, a translation of an ancient text).

Your professors or research supervisors will have their own ideas about what kind of sources to include in your literature review, so be sure to consult with them. Here’s what I tell my students:

Most respected sources

Books, peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journals from reputable publishers. Avoid predatory journals. At least 80% of the total number of sources in your literature review should be sources from this category.

Sources that are OK to use in moderation

Credible edited journals that may not be peer-reviewed, but are highly respected in a professional field; edited conference proceedings; papers from well-respected research institutes or think tanks. Usually, not more than 20% of your sources should come from this category.

Sources that should be used sparingly

Materials from highly reputable news agencies such as the BBC or the Washington Post or highly respected websites, such as the Mayo Clinic. It is not that these sources are not credible, but that you want your research literature review to be strongly focused on research materials. For that reason, I recommend that not more than 5% of sources come from this category.

Sources to avoid

I mentioned two of the big ones above: Wikipedia and online quotation sites. Also avoid predatory journals and any sites (including popular media) that is less reputable.

Here’s an infographic to help you make wise choices about what kind of material to include in your literature review.

Hierarchy of Sources for Educational Research (1)

If your topic has limited sources available in the research, find and analyze what you can, but avoid “padding” your literature review with non-scholarly sources.

When you are learning how to write a literature review, it can be tricky to figure out what kinds of sources to include. Remember, you want to focus on producing a review that is evidence-informed and research-based. The quantity of sources you consult may be important, but quality is definitely important.

Talk with your supervisor about their expectations and get guidance as you go along. The more you work with scholarly or scientific sources, the better you will get at writing literature reviews.

Here’s a longer essay I wrote on this topic if you are interested in reading more:

Eaton, S. E. (2018). Educational Research Literature Reviews: Understanding the Hierarchy of Sources. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/106406

Related posts:

How many sources do you need in a literature review?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

5 Websites to avoid referencing in your research papers  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1IA

What’s the difference between a manuscript and an article? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1SV

How to provide peer review feedback http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qH

Template for a 10-page graduate research paper in social sciences http://wp.me/pNAh3-1s2

How to narrow down your research topic http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Xf

Dear students, It is not O.K. to cite Wikipedia as a source for scholarly articles. Sincerely, your prof. http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qx

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

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The Difference Between Multilingualism and Plurilingualism, Simplified

February 20, 2018

Sarah Eaton - blog - iStock photoStudents sometimes ask me what the difference is between multilingualism and plurlingualism. Because these concepts are also linked to monolingualism and bilingualism, I’ll explain each one here.

Monolingualism – The ability to speak only one language proficiently.

Bilingualism – The ability to speak two languages proficiently (though not necessarily perfectly).

Multilingualism – The ability to speak many languages proficiently (though not necessarily perfectly).

Plurilingualism – The capacity and competence to learn more than one language, as well as the value of linguistic tolerance within individuals and countries. It is associated with intercultural competence and democratic citizenship. This term is often used to talk about language education and policy. (For more details, see Council of Europe source referenced below.)

When we talk about proficiency, we are usually talking about a person’s ability to communicate in a language. Sometimes people also call this fluency, though the two terms have different meaning to those with linguistic training.

Please note, linguists and those with training in second language acquisition may (rightfully) contend that these definitions are simplified. My objective here is to offer clear and straightforward explanations, without too much technical jargon. If you are interested in digging deeper into these concepts, I encourage you to explore some of the resources I have listed in the references.

References:

Boeckmann, K. B., Aalto, E., Abel, A., Atanasoska, T., & Lamb, T. (2011). Promoting plurilingualism – Majority language in multilingual settings  Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Andrea_Abel/publication/259507522_Promoting_plurilingualism_-_Majority_language_in_multilingual_settings/links/0deec52c5967de1a36000000.pdf

Council of Europe. (2007). From linguistic diveristy to plurilingual education: Guide for the development of language education policies in Europe. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/16802fc1c4

Psaltou-Joycey, A., & Kantaridou, Z. (2009). Plurilingualism, Language Learning Strategy Use and Learning Style Preferences. International Journal of Multilingualism, 6(4), 460-474.

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


How to Brand Yourself as a Researcher

February 14, 2018

Recently I was invited by the Werklund School of Education’s Writing Group, which is co-hosted by the Office of Research and the Office of Teaching and Learning, to offer a workshop on branding yourself as a researcher. I’m pretty excited because this gives me a chance to combine my passion for research with my entrepreneurial spirt that led me to have a successful career as an educational consultant before I entered academia full-time.

Branding comes from marketing, but that doesn’t mean academics should feel any disdain towards it. Think of it as learning to share your expertise with people in your field, and beyond, to a wider public audience.

Here are the 5 key points I shared during the workshop:

Specialize.

It is easier to brand yourself as a specialist than it is as a generalist. It is normal for novice and emerging researcher to have multiple areas of interest. This works while you are still figuring out who are you are professionally, but specializing shows you are developing as a researcher. Have a clear research topic that you focus on intently.

Articulate your expertise.

Marketing experts recommend being able to state your focus in 7 words or less.  Here’s mine: “I research academic integrity and plagiarism prevention.” Don’t be that academic that has to ramble on for 38 minutes non-stop to say what it is you are researching. Get to the point and make it easy for others to understand. Practice writing out and saying your research focus until it feels natural.

Develop your plan.

Plan what grants you’ll apply for and when. Develop a writing schedule and target specific journals in your field. Ensure every element of your plan aligns with your area of expertise. Mapping out your research and writing activities will help to ensure you make time for them. Once you execute this plan, you’ll be on your way to having a fully developed research program in your area of expertise.

Stay focused.

There are so many interesting research ideas out there it is easy to get distracted. Stay focused on your own research program. The most successful researchers do not jump on every project that comes along. Choose the projects you want to be involved with carefully and ensure they align with your expertise.

Mobilize your knowledge.

Have multiple channels, but one message. Think about sharing findings in both peer reviewed scholarly journals, as well as plain-language articles targeted to the general public. Think about videos, podcasts and other ways of distributing your knowledge.

The point of all this is to position yourself as an expert in both an academic audience and the public. Ensure others know you are the “go to” person on your topic. Becoming known an expert authority on a key topic not only helps you get noticed in your field, it helps you get hired, and may help you get promoted, too.

Branding yourself as a researcher

References and recommended reading.

Marshall, K. (2017). Branding yourself as an academic. ChronicleVitae. Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1681-branding-yourself-as-an-academic

Mutum, D. S. (n.d.). Social media for researchers and online personal branding.  Retrieved from https://warwick.ac.uk/alumni/services/eportfolios/bsrfbr/dilip_social_media_academics_ebook2.docx

Mizenmacher, M. (2010). Branding your research (and yourself).  Retrieved from http://mybiasedcoin.blogspot.ca/2010/06/branding-your-research-and-yourself.html

Tregoning, J. (2016). Build your academic brand, because being brilliant doesn’t cut it any more. Times Higher Education, (February 24). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/build-your-academic-brand-because-being-brilliant-doesnt-cut-it-any-more

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

 


What is the difference between a dissertation, a thesis and a capstone project?

February 6, 2018

A former student and I were talking recently, and she mentioned the thesis she completed as part of her Master of Education degree at our university.

“I’m going to stop you right there,” I said. “You didn’t do a thesis. You did a capstone project.”

“What’s the difference?” she asked.

It is a common question among students. Students also ask what the difference is between a dissertation and a thesis. Three things they all have in common are:

  • Completed in partial fulfillment of an academic degree.
  • Intended to showcase the student’s knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Approved in some way by the institution that grants the degree.

But that’s about where the commonalities end. Here are some of the differences:

Dissertation

This is usually completed as part of a doctoral degree. The work is overseen by a professor, who is often call the advisor or the supervisor. Often, there is a committee that also supports the work. Students are often required to pass a rigorous exam upon completion of their dissertation. Then, the examiners can make suggestions for further revisions based on their review of the work and the outcome of the exam. A doctoral dissertation is often a few hundred pages long. When it is completed and approved in its final version by all the examiners, it may become publicly available through the university library digital repository or another public database. Sometimes people use the term “thesis” when they really mean “dissertation”. The reason for this may be that the word “thesis” is shorter to say.

Thesis

This is usually completed as part of a research-based master’s degree or an undergraduate honours degree. The length may vary, depending on whether it is completed for the undergraduate or master’s level, but often they are about a hundred pages. The work is overseen by a professor, who is often called the advisor or the supervisor. Upon completion of their thesis, students must often pass a rigorous exam. The examiners can make suggestions for further revisions based on their review of the work and the outcome of the exam. When it is completed and approved in its final version by all the examiners, it may become publicly available through the university library or another public database.

Dissertations and theses often have many elements in common such as being supervised by a professor and requiring an exam to pass. Capstone projects, on the other hand, are a bit different.

Capstone Project

This is a project completed as part of a course-based master’s degree. It is often overseen or guided by a course instructor. Sometimes students present their work in some way, but the capstone does not usually require an examination to pass. The length and format of a capstone project can vary and some are presented as multimedia projects instead of a written report. These kinds of projects can go by different names. At our university we call them a “Collaboratory of Practice” project, but the general idea is the same.

Here’s a handy infographic to highlight some of the key ideas.

Difference between dissertation, thesis & capstone project.

It is important to remember that these are simplified definitions to help you understand the basic differences only. When you talk about your own academic work, it is important to represent yourself accurately. You want to learn the correct term to talk about the work you have completed as part of your degree.

These explanations may not apply to every institution. If you are not sure, talk to a faculty member from your own university to get more details about how things work at your institution.

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


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