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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How to develop your Knowledge Mobilization Plan

March 8, 2017

This week in one of my courses, I’m working with doctoral students to help them understand and figure out how to develop a Knowledge Mobilization Plan (KMP) for their research projects. The KMP is a required element of their project this term.

Here are some resources I shared to help them understand what KMPs are and how to build one:

https://research.usask.ca/documents/Knowledge_Mobilization.pdf

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/research/UserFiles/File/Amanda%20Cooper%20Building%20KM%20Plans%20UT%20Final%20Post%20Version.pdf

https://www.edu.uwo.ca/research/documents/Thinking_About_Knowledge_Mobilization_Plans.pdf

http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/funding-financement/policies-politiques/knowledge_mobilisation-mobilisation_des_connaissances-eng.aspx

http://www.slideshare.net/sreibling/how-to-write-a-knowledge-mobilization-plan

https://www.mta.ca/uploadedFiles/Community/Research_and_creative/Research_Office/Mount_Allison_Connects/Institute_events/Building%20a%20Knowledge%20Mobilization%20Strategy.pdf

I also shared my approach to knowledge mobilization for my own research. I use a multi-dimensional approach that includes four different audiences:

  1. Academic – Academic (peer-reviewed) articles, academic conferences
  2. Professional – Professional journal articles (edited); Professional reports; professional conferences (e.g. teachers’ conventions); professional development workshops
  3. Social media – My blog Twitter (@DrSarahEaton); LinkedIn; Research Gate & Academia.edu. (Note: Those last two are are like LinkedIn, but directed towards those working in research).
  4.  Community – This can include public presentations or workshops. The key is to tailor these to a broad general audience.

I am to get my work out to as many different audiences as possible and to create a digital footprint for the work, so that if someone comes across it years down the road and they are interested long after I have moved on to new projects, they can still find out about the project.

I also look for ways to link the “products” or “outputs” of my projects. For example, I just led a project on signature pedagogies for e-learning in Higher education. I had the report archived on the University’s digital repository, so the citation looks like this:

Eaton, S. E., Brown, B., Schroeder, M., Lock, J. & Jacobsen, M. (2017). Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/51848

I then blogged about the report on this blog: Signature pedagogies for e-learning in higher education and beyond http://wp.me/pNAh3-1MP

I then Tweeted about the report, which then got Re-tweeted:

Brown RT.jpg

I also posted or submitted a copy of the report at:

  • Research Gate:
  • Academia.edu
  • LinkedIn.
  • ERIC (When there is a full report available).

Basically, I try to get the word out in any many ways as possible.

All this, by the way, took less than two hours to do. I have had these accounts set up for some years now and this has been a fairly consistent process for me when I want to mobilize knowledge about a project.

Here is an infographic I created to help you visualize how you might develop your own KMP. Not all the elements I talked about in this post fit onto the infographic, so don’t think of the visual as exhaustive:KMP.jpg

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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.


5 Myths about being an independent language or literacy professional (and secrets of the trade you need to know)

June 18, 2014

Sometimes when I talk with contract language teachers, sessionals, adjuncts, freelance writers, editors and others who dedicate themselves to the language and literacy profession, I’ve learned that there are some myths about the profession that we need to debunk. Here are a few of them:

Myth #1 – The work is about the language

You absolutely need to understand the mechanics of language and the foundations of effective learning to succeed as an independent language professional, the real work is about the people you work with. Helping others to learn, grow and develop as human beings is at the heart of what we do. If you think the job is about being “the spelling police” or a “grammar guru”, you’ve missed the point.

Myth #2 – Being a professional means someone else does the admin work

Language teachers love being in the classroom, but that’s only part of the job. Submitting grades, writing reports and tending to administrative duties comes with the territory. In today’s world, being a professional means paying as much attention to the quality of your administrative work as you do to your teaching. Program and institutional staff are not your personal secretaries. They are professionals in their own right and deserve to be treated as such.

Myth #3 – Being an independent professional means you have no boss

Sometimes people say to me, “You are so lucky!  You have no boss!” Nothing could be further from the truth. You get a minimum of one new boss with every contract you take one. Sometimes you have more than one person you report to. If you’re very lucky, those people will like each other and see eye to eye. If they don’t, you are the one who will get pulled in different directions. Learning to figure out, understand and navigate the reporting requirements of each job is likely to require an immense amount of energy. You invest time and effort at the beginning of every new job. But make no mistake, you will always report to someone, even if it’s not always clear who it is. The trick is to clarify who you report to and understand that your job implicitly involves making that person’s life easier in whatever way you reasonably can.

Myth #4 – The last day of the contract is the end of the job

In many contract situations, there is follow up work to be done after the contract end date. This work is often administrative. Some examples include written reports, expense claims and grade submission. Even though your contract may have officially ended on a particular date, the obligations and expectations of the job may extend past that. Be amenable to reasonable wrap-up duties and ensure you comply with deadlines set by your employer or client. This is important to preserve your positive relationships as you are wrapping up your work. Remember that the end date of a contract may signify the end of a particular job, but your relationships and reputation can outlive any contract.

Myth #5 – It is important to leave with a letter of reference

This is a partial myth. Getting letters of reference can be important, but they can also be formulaic and written according to a template. What’s more important than getting with a generic letter of reference on the last day of the job, is leaving the job with a reputation for excellence and sincere relationships that can last a lifetime. Recommendations that matter are likely to happen over the phone or during informal personal conversations that are more honest and open than a templated letter ever could be. The reality is that we’ll never know about most of the conversations that happen between our prospective employers and our previous employers who are more than likely connected in some collegial way we were never even aware of. Real recommendations don’t come from generic letter we tuck into our portfolios. They come from informal conversations that “never happened”.

There are more myths about the profession that need busting, but these are a few of the most common ones that I see over and over again, especially from folks who are new to the world of working independently either as contractors, freelancers or consultants. The most important thing to remember is that we are only as good as our last contract, our last course or our last project. Our love of language or dedication to literacy is what we do. The reputations we build along the way is how we do it. We need to pay as much attention to the how as we do to the what.

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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.


How many sources do you need in a literature review?

February 19, 2014

Students often ask me how many sources they need in their literature review. The short answer is, “It depends.” It depends on your topic, the nature of your research project, your level of scholarship, and a number of other factors.

An article from Canberra University (http://www.canberra.edu.au/studyskills/writing/literature) suggests:

  • Undergraduate review: 5-20 titles depending on level
  • Honours dissertation: 20+ titles
  • Master’s thesis: 40+ titles
  • Doctoral thesis: 50+ titles

Another strategy I learned somewhere along the way that I now share with my students is this:

If your literature review is one section of a larger research paper, thesis or dissertation

 Minimum number of sources = number of pages in the body of your entire paper (exclusive of title page, abstract, appendices and references)

Example: A paper that has 10 pages of content (the body of the paper) needs at least 10 sources in its literature review. 

A thesis of 100 pages (in the body) includes at least 100 sources.

If your literature review is a stand-alone document

Minimum number of sources =  3 times the number of pages in the body of your paper (exclusive of title page, abstract, appendices and references)

Example: A stand-alone literature review that has 10 pages of content (the body of the paper) should examine at least 30 sources.

These are not hard and fast rules by any means. Also, it is worth mentioning that as students and scholars who care about the quality of our work, we want to aim to raise the bar, not simply meet a minimum suggested standard. What these guidelines are suggesting is that you don’t aim for any less. If you do, your search for relevant literature in your field may be incomplete and you need to keep digging. Of course, your sources have to be relevant to your topic, too.

Not every scholar or academic supervisor would agree with the guidelines I offer here, criticizing them as being too reductionist or simplistic. My point isn’t to offer a black and white rule or open theoretical debate for which there can be no clear solution, but rather to offer a straight forward and practical answer to a question that academics often respond to in an ambiguous way, leaving students frustrated, exasperated and anxious about how to go conduct their literature review. 

When in doubt, talk with your own instructor or supervisor, asking them what their expectations are. (Don’t be surprised though, if you get an answer that is vague, like, “It depends…”)

Remember: Aim for quality over quality… and to do a quality literature review, you need to have a substantive quantity of sources.

Here are some of my favourite resources to help you write your literature review:

University of Toronto – http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/literature-review

U Conn – http://classguides.lib.uconn.edu/content.php?pid=239974&sid=1980274

University of Leicester –  http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/writing-resources/literature-review

Queensland Univeristy of Technology – http://www.citewrite.qut.edu.au/write/litreview.jsp

Birmingham City University – http://library.bcu.ac.uk/learner/writingguides/1.04.htm

Related posts: Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

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Update – January 2018 – 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.


What’s the difference between a citation and a reference?

October 18, 2013

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchThere are certain things no one tells you (usually) when you are a university student. You are just expected to know them. When you learn them, suddenly it is as if you are part of an inner circle of respected peers who accept you… but you are not really sure how you got there. The devil is in the details. What sets rookies apart from experts is deep knowledge of details and sublties that others overlook or gloss over. Knowing the difference between a citation and a reference is one of those subtle details that moves you from the category of “novice researcher” to “respected researcher”.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really need to know — until you really want to be taken seriously among a group of experts. It’s akin to car buffs who know the difference between a supercharger and a turbocharger. Unless you are a “gear head” you don’t need to know. But if you want to be taken seriously in that social circle, you might be shunned if you didn’t know.

Regardless of your field, one key element that sets the experts apart from everyone else is their understanding of details in various elements of our work.

For students and scholars, once of these subtleties is knowing the difference between a citation and a reference:

Citation

A specific source that you mention in the body of your paper. The format of the citation may change depending on the style you use (e.g. MLA and APA) and the way that you weave the citation into your writing, but the basic elements of the citation that you need to include are:

  •  Name of the author(s)
  • Year of publication
  • Page number or page range

If you quote a source directly you must include the exact page number in your citation or it is incomplete.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional development

References

This is a list of the the sources you have cited. The references come at the end of your paper. In APA style, this is not a list of “works consulted”. Every source that is listed in your references also needs to be cited in the body of your paper.

Every source listed in your references should be accessible by others who read your work. Think of it as a trail of breadcrumbs that you leave for readers to show them where they can go to find the original source material for themselves.

In APA style, not all work that is cited necessarily goes into the references. For example, personal communications get cited in the body of your paper, to show the reader that you have a source for your information. But if the reader can not track that source as a primary document (because, for example, the information is contained within a private e-mail between you and someone else), then it does not go into the reference list.

Alert! It is not very common that sources are cited but not referenced. Use sources such as personal communications sparingly, if at all. The more credible sources you have in your references, the better quality your work will be perceived as having.

In general, there should be an exact match between the sources you cite in the body of your paper and those that appear in your references.

The actual books, articles and other materials you consult are called your sources of information. You need to know how to cite and reference all your sources correctly.

Now you know one of the subtle differences of of terms used in scholarship that sets apart the experts from the rookies. When you use the terms correctly, those who know will quietly nod their head and accept you a member of the scholarly community.

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Update – January 2018 – 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.


How to use Scribd to publish your own documents online: A free, downloadable, step-by-step guide

September 2, 2013

With a new school year about to start, a great online tool for teachers and students to know about is Scribd. This online service lets you publish all kinds of documents, including:

  • Resources (like the guide I am sharing with you in this post)
  • Slide presentations
  • Digitally created books
  • Basically any document you can save in Word or .pdf format.

Here’s a preview, step-by-step, “how to” guide for you:

View this document on Scribd

To download a free copy, click on the download icon next to the word “Scribd” at the bottom of the frame. (It looks like an arrow pointing downwards.)

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Update – January 2018 – 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.


How to Access an ElluminateLive! Recording

August 30, 2013

Here’s a handy, downloadable two-page, step-by-step guide with screen shots to help you figure out how to access a recording of an ElluminateLive! e-learning session in Blackboard:

View this document on Scribd

Here’s a link to the downloadable file in .pdf format: How to access an ElluminateLive recording

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Update – January 2018 – 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.


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