8 Steps To Writing A Qualitative Literature Review

Literature reviews are not the most exciting things to write (IMO).

I often get so lost in the reading and research that there is often no energy to actually write the review.

And exactly what are you supposed to put in a literature review?

Do you include EVERYTHING that has EVER been written on the subject?

What do you include? Leave out?

Do I need a conceptual framework? A theoretical framework? What’s the difference again?

It can all be so frustrating and irritating.

Let’s take a deep breath.

Today, I’m going to walk you through what to do.

Overview

In this post, I will:

  • Give an overview of literature reviews and the 3 main things you need to know.
  • Explain the difference between conceptual and theoretical frameworks.
  • Identify the 8 steps to take when writing a literature review.

Literature Review

A literature review should provide an overview of concepts that will be discussed in your study. It should better prepare the reader for your study and results. The literature review sets the context, the stage of your study.

Three things to consider when writing your literature review:

  1. Write a synthesized synopsis of current literature; not a list of everything that has ever been written about said subject.
  2. The review should include 3-5 important concepts the readers need to understand in order to be properly setup for your study and findings.
  3. Include any theories that you will use in data collection and data analysis.

Where people get confused is when the terms of conceptual framework and theoretical framework are used instead of the term, literature review.

Some Definitions

Concept (Constructs)- abstract or generalized idea about an object or phenomenon.

Ex – Activism, Self-Esteem, or Anxiety

Framework – a basic structure, boundaries, guidelines

Conceptual Framework provides a general structure of concepts that help inform the boundaries of your study. It is the 3 or 5 topics your readers need to understand in order to better understand your results.

Theoretical – concerning theory

Theoretical Framework:

  • Is there a particular theory that relates to your study that helps guide your individual understanding of your study, data collection methods, and/or data analysis? It generally provides an overview.
  • You may be applying to a specific context to see if you get similar results.
  • The theory (theories)  may also explain relationships between concepts.
  • The theory can be a part of your literature review or it can be separate. You will make the decision.

8 Steps To Writing Your Literature Review

I have identified 8 steps to follow when you are writing a literature review. I used this when completing chapter 2 for my dissertation. These steps helped me to write the most painful section of the dissertation.

  1. Get A System
  2. Gather Literature
  3. Read, Read, Take Notes, and Read Some More
  4. Outline The Mess
  5. Write It Out
  6. Include Theoretical Framework
  7. Send to Your Advisor and Celebrate
  8. Review Feedback and Go Back to Step 2

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Get A System

I think it’s helpful to figure out your organization system before you begin reading. This will help make life so much easier in the long run. You will be reading so much information and you may think that you will be able to keep everything in your head. At some point, it will become overwhelming and everything will just disappear out of your head.

I started off using Refworks and it just wasn’t working for me.

I would suggest a spreadsheet or a plain document where you begin your reference page.

The spreadsheet will track each thing that you read by it’s citation and any notes that you found while reading. You will see sections Primary Construct and Secondary Construct. Remember, construct = concept (see above for the definition). These sections will become imperative when you begin writing your literature review.

Here is an example of a spreadsheet you can use: https://goo.gl/NP2pNx

Here is an example of using a document. I used Evernote because I can have access to it wherever I go . Feel free to use whatever you are most comfortable with.

When using the document method, I also had a different document for each of my constructs.

 

 

 

 

 

What will you use to organize your literature?

Step 2 – Gather Literature

Find a reference librarian.

You will try to do this alone and ultimately you will come back to the first sentence.

Go find a reference librarian.

They LOVE searching for information and know all tricks and hacks to getting all of the articles.

Also, don’t be lazy. If an article does not have the pdf attached, order it through the interlibrary loan system. The article (or book) will come fast enough. Limiting yourself to just what you instantly have access to will severely hinder your literature review.

Figure Out Online Database

I would also suggest that you ask the reference librarian to give you a crash course on your school’s library’s online database system. You may have had a long presentation during orientation or your first class. Trust me, you want to go through it again. One-on-one training is so much different than class training.

Where To Save Documents

Save your pdfs and readings a specific place. I suggest Google Drive or Dropbox. Again, you can take it everywhere with you.  This also saves storage on your personal device.

Naming Documents

Additionally, how you name your documents is also important. One suggestion, 1st Author’s Last Name, Year, First few words of title (Ex. hooks.1992.BlackLooks). Organizing your documents by name will help make the search process easier later when you need to review a specific article.

Unlikely Places to Search

Lastly, it does not hurt to do a search on Google Scholar and Google. You never know what you may find.

Step 3 – Read, read, take notes, and read some more!

Read each article, book, or document.

Avoid the urge to highlight the entire article because you think it’s all important. It’s not.

When you are new, you think EVERYTHING is important. The authors are saying everything you want to say exactly the way you want to say it. This is especially true when you are new to research or the topic.

Here are few things to do:

  • Create two new word documents and label them Literature & Methodology.
  • The Literature document is where you will write down citations that you find when you are reading the introductions and literature reviews of the articles you have found. You will come back to this list and find these articles at a later time. This will help you avoid going down the rabbit holes and distractions.
  • The Methodology document is similar. You will write down any cool methods you find or methodologies that you may want to explore when you begin to write this section. Remember, come back to it later.
  • Focusing on one task at a time will help you be more efficient.
  • Pay special attention to findings and discussion sections of the articles. This information will inform your literature review.  
  • Most important: Give yourself a deadline. At this date, you will STOP reading and begin writing. You will write even if you have not finished reading. This is a process. There is no ultimate endpoint. Please refer to my last article (LINK). Reading is never done. However, if you never stop to write then you don’t progress. Fuck perfectionism, just write!
Step 4 – Outline The Mess

Picture of handout

  • What are the 3 – 5 topics that seem to come up over and over as you were reading?
    • Also, refer to your research questions for guidance and the terms you used when searching for materials.
    • These 3 -5 topics should be broad and still relate to your topic.
    • Example:  Evaluation of a Bystander Education Program
      1. Principles of Bystander Education
      2. Five-Step Model of Bystander Intervention
      3. Evidence to Support Bystander Interventions
    • Example:  The Comparative Impacts of Social Justice Educational Methods on Political Participation, Civic Engagement, and Multicultural Activism
      1. Service Learning
      2. Intergroup Dialogue
      3. Lecture-Based Diversity Course

  • For each concept, what are 3-5 things that are important to say about this?
    1. These are main ideas
    2. Repeat often throughout existing literature
    3. May also provide something contradictory to repeated points
    4. May not be as clear until after data collection and analysis
    5. How does this concept relate to your study?
    6. How does it fit/not fit for your study?
    7. Any critiques?

The outline does not have to be perfect. Just put whatever words come to mind. You can always change it later. It’s going to be okay.

Step 5 – Write It Out!

Begin to write your literature review following your outline.

  1. Start with your organizing sentences. Just used what you wrote on your outline for these sentences.
    • (Concept 1) is (Main Idea 1), (Main Idea 2), and (Main Idea 3). I will conclude with a critique of the current literature related to (Concept 1) and explain how (Concept 1) relates to my study.
  2. Brain dump everything you know about this topic.
  3. Read through the brain dump and organize it according to your first sentence.
  4. Edit the section for mechanics, word choice, etc.
  5. Go to the next section
  6. Remember: we are not trying to be perfect, just making progress
Step 6 (Bonus)- Theoretical Framework

Are there any theories that explain the relationship between concepts or that you will use in your study?

  • Provide an overview of the theory.
  • A concise explanation of major points (think elevator pitch).
  • Explain why it is relevant for your study – why are you using it?
Step 7 – Show to your advisor/major professor. Celebrate while you wait.

Step 8 – Review feedback and start back at step 2.

Want to know more?
Get your own copy to the Literature Review Guide!

4 Ways to Read More as a PhD Student

You get your new syllabi for the semester.

You’re all excited to see what books will be used, what assignments you will have to do, and how much the class is going to require from you.

However, you turn to the weekly view and see ALL THE READING that is required for this class.

How will you get it all done? #How Sway

The first thing I want to say is
IT IS NOT EXPECTED THAT YOU READ EVERYTHING WORD FROM WORD.
Yes, I’m yelling!

 

 

This is usually the hardest lesson for most who are new to a Ph.D. program to learn.

More reading is assigned than is expected to actually be read.

Look at the list as providing you more options for understanding a concept. Many different viewpoints exist on a concept. No more are things as simple a right and wrong.

The whole point of getting a Ph.D., it is to teach (or show) you that you have your own viewpoints. The program through classes and research activities give you practice on how to articulate your viewpoints in a more informed matter. Informed by the voices of other people who have been deemed “experts” in your field. People such as old White men who wrote

something of the top of their heads a billion years ago (IMO).

The theory is the more you engaged with a concept from various viewpoints, the more you will be able to uncover your own viewpoint. However, a lot of people merely treat reading assignments as separate items on a weekly to-do list with no connection to each other.

But who has time for all of that reading? You have a billion other things you need to get done than to sit around thinking about thinking. Am I right or am I right?

Truth bomb: That’s exactly what you signed up for!

4 Ways to Read More

Either way, I understand that life is busy. There are a lot of things that need to get done. Today, I’m going to share with you some ways to navigate getting all of your reading completed.

Set aside 3 hours a day, every day for reading.

This is for my readers who want to read every word assigned. Especially if you are not a speed-reader, you are going to need a significant amount of time to get the reading done. Your number may be different than 3 hours; however, the more you get into it, the more accurate you can plan out reading. It would be helpful to make these three hours the same every day.

Why three hours?

Reading is more than words on a page. Notes about the meaning of these words strung together need to be made. You have to organize it in a way that will help you remember this information for later. Unless you a photographic memory you will no doubt have some mechanism like highlighting important points, writing notecards, writing in the margins, typing out notes and thoughts, or some combination of all. The more you read, the faster you will get and it will still take a considerate amount of time to get it all done.

Speed-Reading Hacks

When I want to read something to get an idea of what the authors are saying and I don’t want to read word-from-word, I use this hack. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph.

If the authors are true academic writers, their manuscripts will give all the important information at the beginning and end of each chapter, sections, and/or paragraph. That’s what makes doing academic writing difficult, tedious, and boring to some. However, as a reader, it makes following along easier and more efficient.

I also had a friend who would read every other word. These hacks require that your mind stay in the moment and focused on what you are reading. As you will likely be going faster than you normally would go, you are going to need to focus more. I especially use this hack when reading articles.

Pick some and leave the rest.

Honestly, you can generally get an idea of the reading if you are paying attention to class discussion. Still, in order to be a participating member in that discussion, you have to do some reading. That does not mean all of the reading.

Look at the list for the week, what stands out to you? Are there titles or authors that grab your attention? Pick those and leave the rest. Now the ones that you pick, you are going to want to read them and be very familiar with them. These selected articles will be what you use to inform your comments in class. You can choose to read these words from word or using one of the reading hacks like the ones mentioned above. You may feel like you are somehow cheating however these are your own thoughts of wanting to be perfect. Perfectionism is a disease.

Group Notes

You can find a few people, I say no more than three people, who you trust. Each person reads their assigned readings, take notes, and shares it with the group. This is for those who are not comfortable with not reading everything and do not have time to read everything.

It is critical for everyone to set their own expectations. The discussion should address such questions as:

When will you assign readings (each week, beginning of the semester)?
How detailed should the notes be?
What should be included?
How will you make sure it is equitable? Not all titles are created equal.
When will the notes be due to the group by?
Where will said notes be kept?
If someone else wants access to the notes, how will that decision be made?

Going with the flow and skipping this conversation will cause headaches and frustration later. Even if you are all friends and deeply love each other, a discussion of expectations is needed.

You can download me!

There are four ways to attack your reading for the semester. How do you handle your reading? Is there anything from this article that you can take with you? Let me know in the comments.

How To Write A Research Question

First, figure out:

Topic: What is the general thing you want to talk about?

Problem: What issue will you research address?

Purpose: What will be the point of your research project and how does it connect to the problem?

Once you know those two things, then you can write your main research question. Some other things that you can do to figure out your first question:

  1. Get all of the thoughts out of your head. Take a brain dump, either writing, talking to someone, or recording yourself. You want to say or write everything that you are thinking in relation to your topic. This will help get clear and to focus down on your topic.
  2. Read existing literature. You have to know what has already been done regarding your topic. What have other people found? If there is nothing, what does that mean? WARNING: Please don’t get stuck here. Using reading as an excuse will hinder your progress. [CONNECT ARTICLE]
  3. What is your time frame and capacity with this project? How much time do you have? Is this a project that you can do alone or will you need others? There is more time to do more research projects, however, let’s get this one done first.

Need help writing your research question? Share it in the comments or email me at Marvette@marvettelacy.com and I’ll give you feedback on it.

How To Be A Successful Doctoral Student

Happy August!

Are you ready to start your new adventure?

For some of you, this is not your first year. However, you may still feel like you need some direction in life.

There is no pressure to feel like you need to have it all together. I still didn’t feel like I had it all together when I became Dr. Lacy.

I do think it is helpful to know how other people organized their doctoral lives. Even if these things don’t click with you, hopefully, it will give you some ideas of what will work best for you.

Also, there is not one thing that is going to work…or work the entire time you are in your doctoral program. You will change and your needs will change.

Practice grace and patience with yourself. You will come out on the other side.

3 Things I Needed The Most

This week I will discuss the three major things that will have the most impact on your life right now. I will talk about how to organize all your to-dos and events, talk about managing your readings and notes, and talk about building routines to further productivity.

Planners, Planners, Planners

I love planners, calendars, and notebooks; all things related to stationery and office supplies.

I have used a planner since middle school. Mostly, I used my planner to write down important dates, birthdays, assignments, and exams. I would spend a lot of time writing everything I needed in the beginning of the semester only to not use it on a regular basis throughout the semester. I had it with me all the time but for some reason, I just didn’t refer to it everyday. It was something about writing it down helped me keep it in mind. Plus, in K-12, teachers and grownups are constantly reminding you what you need to do and when.

However, being in a doctoral program changed all of that for me. It was difficult to keep up with all of the readings, the assignments, the other dates like research meetings, and things I needed to do for my graduate assistantship. Transitioning to a new city and a new school was a lot for me! This additional stress did not leave a lot of room for me to remember everything together in my mind.

During my first year, I thought I would manage everything digitally. I would use my Google calendar, write my assignments in Google Documents, and buy only digital books. It was a disaster. It was difficult to focus constantly reading a screen. I learned that I love the feeling holding an actual book or document and being able to handwrite notes on the pages. Yes, there are apps to do this with digital books and documents; however, it was not the same.

My first key piece of advice: Please do not try anything new when you first begin your doctoral program. The transition will be stressful enough and adding a new system to the mix can make it more chaotic.

Needless to say, I went back to using a paper planner. I went to Target and got a regular ole horizontal planner. This was before the days of my addiction to planners, stickers, and decorations. I was only concerned with keeping everything in one place.

What will you use to keep track of everything? Will it be a paper planner, a digital calendar, a combination, some other things?

The takeaway is to have something. At the end of this post, I have linked to a few tools that may help keep you on track.

There are so many options. Maybe just having a notebook where you write down everything is enough for you. Whatever it is, keep it consistent to save yourself some headaches.

Note Management System

You will be confronted with an endless amount of reading as you begin your doctoral program. How are you supposed to read it all, let alone keep track of everything you are reading? This reading can be overwhelming. You will make it through it. Next week, I will be speaking about how to crush your reading without stressing yourself out.

Today, I want to give you some tools you can use to keep track of the notes and other important things from your readings. You will be thankful that you took time to have a comprehensive note management system when it comes time for final exams, preliminary exams, or writing various manuscripts. You will remember random things and your system, depending on how well organized it is, will help you to locate that random thing.

I mainly used Evernote for my note management system. You can organize things into notebooks. And every time you make a new note, you can give it a title and tags to helps it be more searchable for the future. Evernote also keeps track of dates and authors. There is also an option to share with others.

I additionally like that you can add pdfs, pictures, and web pages right into the note. So you can have it all in one place. The best part is that it is free and you can take it along with you without having to carry around any physical storage device.

You can also use other systems to do something similar, such as Google Drive and Onedrive. I just prefer Evernote for my notes. I have also used a Word document to keep all of my notes in one place. Microsoft Word gives you the option to put the document into a notebook layout. It really is going to depend on what works best for you.

Digital books and pdf did not work for me; however, writing notes or brain dumping was better in a digital space because I type faster than I write. I could just brain dump about what I read or things I heard in class. For some classes, I did use a paper notebook but mostly I used a Word document and Evernote.

Work Routine/Place

I’m a person who is not the biggest fan of routines and after this doctoral experience, I cannot deny the power of routines for productivity. During my first year, I worked on my readings and assignments whenever I felt the urge. The deeper I got into the year, the less I felt the urge. So I had to come up with some routines.

First, I had to stop working at home. I found that it was better for me to physically go to another location to get more work done. There were too many distractions at home to stay focus. I found a coffee shop that had great internet, plenty of seating, and decent coffee. I would go to this place at least four days a week to get things done. I even asked classmates to join me because that also helped me to focus. 

What is your place where you will go just for work? What does this place need to have? Comfortable seating? Quiet area? Do you need others to be around?

I would also encourage you to treat this as a job where you go to this place the same days and times every week. It will train your mind and body to know it is now the time to be productive and do school work.

If you prefer to stay home, designate a specific space where you will go to complete work. The bed may not be the best place though.

Tools That May Be Helpful

There are so many things that you can use to help yourself stay focus and to be successful. I will say keep it simple at first. I only shared three things as I do not want to overwhelm you but there will be more great tips to come. Until then, check out this resource guide of tools and let me know if you have any to add to this list.

What tools are you using to keep everything together?