Dissertation Boot Camp – Literature Review Toolkit

Emily: My name is Emily Keller. I’m the Political
Science and Public Affairs Librarian here at the University of Washington Libraries.
I work with folks across a number of social sciences, a lot of folks in the Jackson school,
and anybody else who tracks me down and wants to talk about what they’re working on. I’d
like to try to, I think you probably during the day sort of demystified librarians if
you haven’t already. I’d just like to remind you folks that people think about librarians
and they think about books. And books are great. Books are interesting. I buy a lot
of books. I recommend books to people but really my work revolves around people and
supporting faculty and students with the goals that you set for yourself. So this is one
of my favorite things to get to do is to interact with students and hear about what you’re working
on and see what kinds of roadblocks you’re hitting and how we might be able to support
smoothing that path a little bit. I’m very happy to have you here today even though it’s
a Saturday. I applaud your diligence in coming in and working with us today. So what I thought
we’d do today, we have a short period, I’m going to run through a lot of stuff and just
know that this can be the beginning of a conversation and there are a lot of other folks that you
can continue to work with – myself included – and the subject specialists in the fields
that you’re working in. What I thought we’d do is sort of review the role of the lit review
in your larger project, in your dissertation and sort of conceptualize it a little bit.
We won’t just talk about searching – we’ll actually talk about what is this animal and
what it’s supposed to be doing for me. We will also talk about some strategies and sources
for approaching it strategically and efficiently. This can be a big rabbit hole that you could
end up trailing down. You are curious, intelligent people and you’re interested in a lot of things
in the world and being tasked with having to thoroughly review the literature around
your research can be daunting and it can be kind of a quick sand. So if you have some
strategies at the outset to help you be efficient with that, I’d like to see if we can help
you come up with some of those. And I have a couple of little tricks in my bag for that.
We are really going to be focusing on the early stages of working on your literature
review. Despite the title, I’m really not getting into the writing and the structure,
or a lot around managing your citations along the way. I think you’ve already heard about
some of the services available to you in those areas. You have writing support for graduate
students, you have help for citation management, and again, the librarians are happy to work
with you as you proceed on this piece of your work. But we are really going to focus on
the early strategizing of it and coming up with ways to be efficient there. This is really
going to be discipline-agnostic. I work with folks in the social sciences so those are
the sources and literature that I’m most familiar with, but I’m going to try to keep it at the
10,000 foot level so hopefully it is applicable for all of you. I’d encourage you to, and
I’m sure you are already, working with and talking with colleagues and advisors and other
trusted faculty around any sort of disciplinary differences that you might see in a lit review
in your field. There may be other standard things that you would expect to see that we
won’t talk about today. So keep in mind: this will be a little generic and that there may
be, your own discipline may require some other structures or ways to approach it as well.
And then anywhere along the way, just ask whatever questions you like based on your
own experience or things that you’ve been running into before. Just before we dig in,
who is just getting started on this – on the lit review piece? So some of you are just
starting to dig in, some of you are kind of middle ways, who is kind of heading in – I
see a lot of this…okay, okay good. I just want to get a sense of where folks are. So
let’s just start with what this thing is. What is a literature review? How would you
define it? It can be completely half-baked – just keywords, anything… (audience answers) Emily: Okay, so the lit review as a mechanism
for identifying a gap that you’re filling with your own research. Good. Other ways of
thinking about it? (audience answers) Emily:Great, great. So framing all of the
different traditions that your own work is coming out of, sort of the intellectual foundations.
That’s great. (audience answers) Emily:Right, exactly. Very good. This is all
fully-baked here. (audience laughs) Emily:That’s a very good synopsis of what
this thing is. Your research, research in the academe, is built upon research that came
before and now you are situating yourself in that ongoing discussion. And, as you were
mentioning, bringing in the difference traditions that you might be looking at which might not
be organically and naturally stuck together because you are bringing those sort of question
and streams of thought together, especially those of you who are doing work that’s interdisciplinary
which is increasingly the case. You are framing where your study comes in this sort of larger
landscape of the literature. I have a little illustration here. It’s like giving your point
on a map – here I am and here’s the landscape of research around me. You’re describing that
for your reader and along the way also describing what the significance of your own research
is and where you’re providing a new insight or new thread to that discussion. It also
has some pretty practical – it serves some practical needs as well. It really helps the
reader – you’re going to be spelling out what the significance of your study is. So you’re
helping your reader discern that for your project. It also demonstrates for your committee
that you are fully conversant in the key texts, themes, authors, debates surrounding your
research so that’s a very important part of the role of your lit review. And it also helps
define the focus of your study. It can be your friend in terms of sort of keeping you
on track and defining a clear boundary around what you’re working on. It’s not a summary,
it’s a synthesis of that landscape and describing that landscape around your own work. As I
mentioned, that’s a big task. That’s a lot you’re being asked to do. How can you do that
strategically? You don’t want to get overwhelmed. You want to remain focused and efficient.
You probably have a couple other things going on in your life and this piece needs to not
subsume all of those other things if possible. Let’s look at a couple of strategies for approaching
this efficiently. First of all, I would suggest to conceptually map your research; to actually
physically, or virtually, paint a picture of the conceptual bubbles that you are working
with.This helps in a few ways. One thing that it does, especially for those of you doing
interdisciplinary work, is that by stepping back from your very specific research question
and mapping it out a little more broadly, it can help you focus in on what disciplines
the literature might live in. So if we can map out your topic, we can sort of deconstruct
it so we can figure out which databases, which types of sources would we want to go in to
dig in to any of those conceptual bubbles. It also helps you establish the relationship
between the different areas you’re looking at. Let’s say that you actually did this on
a whiteboard or a big piece of butcher paper. You pulled apart your topic and conceptually
mapped it out either with circles, color coded post-it notes, or there are a couple of online
tools that are available for you to map things out. One thing that it does for you is it
can having a calming effect. When you are stewing and all of those ideas are swimming
around and you are constantly feeding yourself with more and more, it can start to feel a
little overwhelming, “I don’t know where am. I’ve got so many things floating around at
the same time.”By actually mapping them out, you can calm yourself by seeing where things
are and where you are and what you know. “I know a lot about this. I’ve already done a
lot of work and background. I’m doing okay.” The other thing that it will do is help you
see where you’re not okay. “Okay, so in this one conceptual bubble, this one aspect of
my topic, I really need to do some more work. That’s an area where I’m not quite as familiar
with.” So it helps you see what you know and it helps you see what you don’t know. That
conceptual map can actually be something that is dynamic and changes as you continue to
work on your project to help keep you focused, to help you see which areas are developing
so this can become kind of a spiderweb of ideas, texts, concepts, people. People do
this in all different ways. Some people like a very linear outline. I’m in the big post-it
note camp because I like to move things around and have things change as my ideas changes.
I would encourage you to actually do that. I share this strategy with undergrads as well.
It’s a good way to get your ideas on paper and help you see where you’re going. I will
just show you a quick example. There was a student I was working with a few years ago
in Public Administration and she had this really interesting project where she was looking
at grass roots organizations that serve people with HIV and AIDS. As the disease became an
epidemic, these organizations became more and more vital to their communities until
eventually years later, they became established, mainstream non-profit organizations with advancement
departments and marketing and all that kind of thing. She was looking organizationally
– what happens to an organization when it comes from an activist-based grass roots organization
to something well-established and mainstream part of the community. So we were mapping
things out and looking at some of the different conceptual bubbles at play. With any of these
circles, she had all these little offshoots of other questions and issues. This was just
the first step in her conceptual map. One thing it helped us do is pull back from the
topic a little bit so we could ask, “Where would the literature live so that she could
approach these things?” The piece about going from activist to a larger, mainstream organization
– a lot of that literature actually lived in our Business database where there was a
lot of literature on organizational development and non-profit management. Maybe not the first
place you would think but by deconstructing her topic a little bit we were able to think
about it that way so we could dig in to where the literature actually lived. The HIV/AIDS
piece – there was a lot in the medical literature, but more from the service perspective or in
Nursing and Allied Health we were able to find some literature there. The Community
Health Centers and how they functioned and what kind of services they provide, and how
they dealt with things organizationally. That was actually in the literature of social work.
It sounds like here’s somebody from Public Administration digging into all of these other
fields and her conceptual map helped us figure out how to approach those things strategically.
Any questions about that? Does anybody do this already just as a matter of course? A
little bit? Good. Alright, so, my next strategy here is to see
if somebody has already done some of this work for you. If you’re tasked with thoroughly
understanding the literature surrounding your research question, that’s a big task. There’s
a lot to swim in there. What I would suggest is you not just do a lot of searching and
cherry pick by hand all of that stuff. I was thinking about an analogy in my head later
this summer people were going to berry picking and apple picking and I always think, “Oh,
isn’t that a lovely activity.” No, I don’t really want to do that. I really would like
to go to the store and get this nice little bucket of nicely washed, perfect blueberries
and I would like to start there. That’s nice, you take the kids and go pick some blueberries.
I’m going to go to the store and get this nice package and I appreciate being able to
find things like that. You can take a similar approach as your first pass through the literature
as well and find sources where some of the compilation has already been done rather than
starting in the primary and secondary literature for your literature review anyway. Let me
show you an example. Here is one type of source where you could get this: from an encyclopedia.
I’m not taking you back to your high school world book. These are specialized, academic
encyclopedias. The entries are written by the faculty you work with. This is the Encyclopedia
of Death and Dying. See if I can do this with the mic. I found this entry on euthanasia.
It’s about a five page long entry and gives me an overview of where are we when we talk
about euthanasia today, where did we come from, what have been some of the key debates
and issues, who have been some of the most important scholars and texts in this discussion.
An encyclopedia can do that for you. You could try Wikipedia. I would suggest using some
of our online tools and I’ll tell you where you can find them. You can find more of the
authoritative, academic types of sources. The other nice thing this is going to do for
you – at the end of this entry, there’s a list of about 15 other sources. There’s a
nice little list of key texts. There’s a nice little bucket of blueberries that you would
walk away with without doing any searching. You get the content, but you get the pointers
to other stuff as well. Again, I have to sell this stuff to undergrads but I think it has
a really great utility to graduate students as well for this kind of task. There are other
types of sources out there like this. I imagine a lot of you have heard of encyclopedias before
but there are some others as well. One of them that I would suggest is things like handbooks.
This is the Oxford Handbook of Bioethics. Oxford, Blackwell, Routledge all put out these
really beefy series of handbooks that provide these kinds of outlines of key issues in a
particular discipline and these span across the sciences and social sciences and humanities.
So they are out there. A lot of them are in hard copy, some of them are electronic, but
they’re at a higher reader level. They will feel a little bit more like the kinds of things
you’ve been reading as a graduate student in terms of outlining the state of a particular
field. I can show a little more about how to find these. Actually, throw the word “handbook” into
your keyword search in the catalog and that will help you identify some of them. Your
subject librarians can help you track them down as well. We buy these as a matter of
course just for this kind of thing. (audience question) Emily:That’s a good question. You know, that
might be discipline-specific. What’s your field? (audience response) Emily: I think if there’s something where
it was important that you are going back and looking at the history of the development
of an issue, then that might be useful. I mean a handbook from 20 years ago on a topic
that has changed a lot would kind of give you a view of what that synopsis was looking
like 20 years ago. That’s sort of a meta-exercise where you’re then kind of reading it in the
text from that sort of time perspective. It could make things a little bit messier for
you. I think that would be something to sit down and chat with somebody about. Chat with
your librarian, or me – just because that sounds interesting. In the sciences, I’m not
sure I can speak well to what that would mean in the sciences. I guess I just go back to
that generality of asking yourself what the historical significance might be in what you’re
looking at. Another type of source that I really like
are these annual reviews. Has anybody ever used these before? Good. I see a couple of
nods. They’re a little hidden. They are kind of this secret gem. This is from the Annual
Review of Sociology and these are available in a database. Imagine that you get this volume,
like a journal, and each of the articles is a literature review around a particular issue
in the field. And that literature review outlines the current state of thinking about a particular
issue. Often, they’re sort of emerging issues so this is when you might want to go back,
maybe 5-10 years depending on what you were looking at if your issue is not showing up
in the more recent issues. This one is on Gender Inequalities in Education. It’s written
by a professor at Ohio State. The faculty are actually invited to write these. So the
editors try to find somebody who’s able to speak to that particular topic and then they
assemble these literature reviews where they outline all the key texts and authors and
issues and debates and cite heavily throughout the source. This is like a 20 page lit review
and it’s got like a five page bibliography at the end. Again, that’s your little bucket
of blueberries that you’ve got without searching. People think librarians want to teach you
how to search for all the stuff. I’d actually like you to find the stuff and this can be
an efficient way to do that. I’ll pass that around. (audience question) Emily:I’ll show you online. There’s a number
of them. They are very prevalent in the sciences.The database that I’ll show you has some in the
social sciences. There are some others out there in the humanities but I’ll show you
the database. Yeah, did you have a question? (audience question) Emily: Can you say that second part again? (audience asks again) Emily: An Annual Review. Yeah. And again,
I will show you a database where there are dozens of them in one place but your own librarian
may be aware of others. In English, there are a couple of others out there that are
not included here, but you would want to…it’s like, “The Year’s Research in Literature or
American Studies.”They are pretty fantastic. It’s a little tricky sometimes. It’s kind
of a crap shoot. Is there some aspect of my topic where a literature review has actually
been written in Annual Reviews? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Again, being able to map
out your topic and step back from it a little bit so that you can look at it in different
ways and just really try to dig in there and see if you can find something that would be
useful. That’s also something we can help you with one on one. When they’re there and
they work, it’s fantastic. When it’s not, it’s a little disheartening but it’s definitely
worth trying. A couple of other quick things to think about when looking for people who
have already done some of this work for you. Other dissertation writers! We have a database
for finding dissertations and it’s chock full of full texts of dissertations going way back.
All of those poor people had to write their own lit reviews and those are now available
to you as well. So that can have an added benefit in terms of giving you a model of
what a dissertation in your field might look like as well. I’ll show you where you can
find dissertations and have that dual benefit. This is maybe a little counter intuitive,
but if we went over to the undergraduate library and looked at some survey-type text books
in the field, you might find some useful sources for gathering a lot of literature from one
place without doing a lot of searching. If you can imagine a textbook for Introduction
to International Relations, they’re going to give you a textbook that is surveying the
field and all of the basic things about the field that they would want their lower division
students to know. You would be able to tap into that and all of the readings that they
provide in their introduction to the field. So just your standard textbooks – you can
throw a keyword like “introduction” or “introductory” into your keyword search. But again, we’re
happy to help you see if we can track things like that down. That’s kind of my big strategy
for taking that first path and finding a lot of stuff without spending a lot of time searching:
looking in Annual Reviews, and Encyclopedias, in the Lit Reviews, in Dissertations, and
from more survey-type texts. Any questions about that strategy or other ideas in that
vein? Emily: Okay, good. I may be presenting a picture
of this as a very straightforward, linear process that is all going to go about in a
very organized and efficient fashion. You are in control of it and it will circle out
of bounds, as well. Keep your eye on that concept map and keep going back to it as a
way to keep yourself focused so that you’ve clearly defined the domain around your work.
Then, you know when you’re getting outside of that and maybe losing a little bit of focus.
So let’s take a look at the research guide I’ve put together for you. It has pointers
to all of these different types of sources so you don’t have to go around and track them
down on your own. I think Chloe will probably send something out later that will have links
to slides and links to resources so there will be a link to this as well if you don’t
feel like jotting down this URL. So you’ve got my contact information if you want to
chat about this. Can you all see that? Kind of? So, I’ve separated it into a few different
areas. Here, under Lit Review type sources, those are the “Has somebody else done the
work for you?” type of sources. So here, the very first one, Gale Virtual Reference, this
is a database of academic encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying that I
showed you. You can search for general concepts in here and get those kinds of entries from
all different types of encyclopedias. Oh, this is also, if you’re doing work that’s sort
of moving into fields that are less familiar to you, this is something else you can have
in your back pocket for looking up some sort of obscure term that keeps coming up again
and again. Kind of like you would do in Wikipedia, but here, again, you’re going to get a little
bit more even treatment and you’ll get discussion from different disciplines. Has anybody ever
used that before? Or does anybody teach? Is anybody teaching? Show your students this,
too – the ones who keep throwing Wikipedia entries into their papers. This could be another
good place to start and something that students don’t stumble upon on their own. It’s only
when a librarian like me foists it on them do they go play with it. Down below is a link
to Annual Reviews. This is a database that has a few dozen different annual reviews in
it. If I pull down this tab for journals, I’m sure you can’t see that. There are all
kinds of fields: Psychology, Biosciences, Anthropology, Law and Social Science, Statistics,
Physical Chemistry, so there’s a pretty diverse range there. You can search across all of
them at once or if your field is pretty well-defined, you might just want to pick one of those particular
annual reviews in your field and just search within that. Has anybody ever stumbled upon
that before? Okay, I can feel like my work – this has been a good day if I can turn some
people on to that source. And this is our Dissertation database
– ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. I imagine some of you have already played with that
a little bit. Finding somebody else’s lit review and seeing other models of dissertations
in your field. Over here on the right, I just threw in a few examples of different handbooks
that are out there with links to the catalog record for them. Some of them are online.
That’s just a sampling. There are many, many, many others and we’re happy to help you find
those. Yeah? (audience question) Emily: Yes. That dissertation database is,
I believe it’s international in scope and goes back…I don’t know, it goes pretty far
back, date-wise as well. So yes, it’s a much larger scope than just UW. Other questions? (audience question) Emily:Yeah, yeah. “101”, “primer”, “introduction
to” – there’s an Oxford series called, “Very Short Introductions” and they are very small
and fit in your purse. “This is a very short introduction to Geopolitics.” Written by somebody
that they really tracked down as an expert in that field, full of citations, and nice
bibliographies in those. So those are the first pass, “somebody’s done the work for you.” Then in this tab for Discipline-specific tools, I’ve just provided a small sampling
of discipline-specific databases. So after you’ve made that first pass, you’ve gotten
a lot of lists of work from other people who have done some of this reviewing already on
your behalf. Then you may start to identify some remaining gaps in your map that you need
to dig into and do some of your own, on-the-ground searching for. What I would suggest is that
you start with, depending on what you’re doing, is start with some of our discipline-specific
databases. The magic search box on the home screen will bring up a number of journal articles
from a number of different databases but it doesn’t search all of the databases that we
subscribe to. So, especially for graduate students, I often suggest they go off and
search those discipline-specific databases discretely. You’re able to harness a lot more
search power and able to get much deeper in the literature in your field than you would
with a more generic search tool. (audience question) Emily: Are you thinking of the little purple
button that says, “Check for full text” – that kind of thing? (audience response and discussion) Emily:It’s taking you into kind of a bridge
that taps into our electronic journal holdings so if there’s something you identify in UW
Worldcat, the search box from the home page, and that path leads you to a dead end, you’ve
probably done all you can do in terms of that particular journal article in terms of finding
our holdings. You can always request that through Interlibrary Loan and we will go and
try to get that for you from some place else. Searching the databases is like shopping in
another store. It’s going to tell you about articles in journals that we may or may not
subscribe to. You can hit that dead end regardless of the tool but searching in another database
does let you search a deeper, richer pool in a particular discipline. (audience discussion) Emily: If you ever hit those roadblocks, just
pop into our chat service. That’s 24/7 and there’s somebody there available to help you
get through it. We don’t want you to be spinning your wheels and spending all your time trying
to fix this particular thing. We’d really like to help facilitate your getting what
you already identified. Be sure to check with us on that stuff. So here – just a few different
databases. Education, Business, Political Science, Nursing, Environmental Science – there
are, I think we have about 300 different subscription databases. There is likely one that will touch
on many aspects of your topic. If you’re not sure which database exists out there for you
to use, you can always tap into our research guides. These are all linked from the Libraries’
home page. These are all webpages put together by librarians in all of these subject areas
and they’re intended to point you to those top tools so you don’t have to know what this
obscure name of this database is in Public Health. You can go to one of these guides
and find out what are the top databases. So that’s how you would identify those discipline-specific
databases that exist out there. Any other questions or roadblocks you’ve hit before?
About using databases? It’s kind of it’s own thing and we’re happy to help you make the
most of them. As opposed to Google which has no real intellectual work put behind it aside
from an algorithm to try to get you to whatever they decide you should get to first, a lot
of these databases are expensive because they have a lot of intellectual work put into them.
They have these thesauri or controlled vocabulary to help translate the way a layperson might
describe something into the way that they’ve tried to make sure similar topics can be found.
We can help you with that, again, you don’t need to become an expert in searching. We
can kind of help sort of smooth that path for you so you can get the most out of it
in the most efficient way possible. Let’s see if I’ve got anything else here on the
guide to show you. Oh, and also for when you’re starting to organize your writing a little
bit more, I’ve included some links to some other writing resources that are available
for you. There is a big demand for writing support for grad students. We’re never done
learning how to write well and how to communicate our thinking well so we do have drop-in consultations
here in the Research Commons. There’s a link to more information for that. And just a couple
of other tools for helping you cite your sources or gather them along the way. Some of you
might have learned about some of the citation management systems and a lot of the tools
that I showed you today play pretty well with those systems so that’s another way to gather
all of those blueberries that you are putting into your library. What other questions do
you have? Angst? Concern? Excitement around the lit review? (audience question) Emily: Well, if I’m interpreting this correctly…you’d
probably want to go back and take a look at those sources yourself and make sure you’ve
looked at those. Then you’d be able to cite those directly now that you’ve looked at them
yourself. (audience response and laughing) (audience discussion) Emily: Yeah, that’s a useful way to think
about it. I suppose you could get feedback from some readers that it could look lazy…maybe. (audience discussion) Emily: I don’t know of any drone that’s out
there sort of reading those things and trying to track you down. (audience laughing and continued discussion) Emily: No, we’re out of time. (laughing) Emily: These were really your starting strategies
for getting into it. When it’s time to start organizing it and structuring it, I think
that’s when you’d probably start getting into some more discipline-specific things that
you’d want to think about. So you can work with some of the writing support. You can
see some models in dissertations in your field and kind of see if there are similar structures.
Talking with your advisors, faculty, and colleagues would be another way to go in terms of getting
some support around writing and structuring. Well we have enough time for another question
or two. (audience question) Emily: What’s your field? (audience response) Emily: Well, I have a couple of ideas. One
would be to work closely with your committee and advisor to see how much leeway you have
there. I think in some fields you probably would have a lot of leeway. I have a title
on the top of my head, it’s something like, “Tango Dancing and the Social Sciences.” Is
that it? And I don’t know if it touches on that but I think it’s sort of about scholarship
as a creative process and I don’t know if it gets into butting up against academic traditions.
Did you read that? (audience response and discussion) Emily: I can’t remember the field she was
in, either. Oh, she was. Okay. So we might check out that book and see, “Does she point
us to anything else?” I might want to sit down with you and just do a little bit of
looking around. I don’t know if that’s a librarian orientation that we can just solve this by
finding a good journal article about it. (audience discussion continues) Emily: And what is that title again? (audience response) Emily: “Completing Your Qualitative Dissertation.”
Great, thank you. Well, I’m afraid we’re out of time but again, continue this discussion
between you and me or with your subject librarian. I encourage you to stay in touch with us so
we can keep working together as you work through this process. Thank you.

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