Often, candidates are not quite sure how to begin. They might read many articles, somewhat aimlessly, hoping to be inspired. Fortunately, researchers have uncovered a specific set of routines that can help students clarify their research questions and methods. This set of resources will help you
- decide what to read during the first month or so of your candidature
- utilize this material to develop or refine your research questions
- complete and write a literature review
What does a thesis entail?
After candidates can imagine their future vividly--such as envisage the submission of their thesis--they tend to feel more inspired and motivated. To facilitate this image of the future, you should become more familiar with the product of your research: the thesis. To fulfil this goal, skim or read the documents in the following table.
|Documents to consider||Content of these documents|
|Helps you identify which theses to read; you should read several theses, preferably from this university|
|Clarifies the scope of research you should undertake--that is, the amount of data collection, data analysis, or other activities you need to complete to earn your degree|
Reviewing the literature and refining your research question
To review the literature and to modify your research questions, ideas, aims, and hypotheses, read these documents carefully. These two documents overlap but offer distinct insights on how to conduct literature reviews to optimize your research.
|Documents to read||Content of documents|
|Presents some guidelines on how to conduct and write a literature review effectively|
|Helps you develop and refine your research questions and ideas. This document outlines a routine--a set of activities--that are derived from research on practices that promote creativity, insight, and decision making|
Systematic literature reviews and meta-analysis
To learn more about the literature, you can conduct a traditional literature review, a systematic literature review, or both. A systematic literature review is more comprehensive and more likely to be published. But, a systematic literature review is also more likely to consume time--and tends to revolve around a more specific question only. In essence, to conduct a systematic literature review, you need to
- determine which studies you want to include, called the inclusion criteria, and which studies you want to exclude, called the exclusion criteria
- decide which databases and sources you will utilize to unearth these studies
- develop search terms and limits to search these databases methodically
- stipulate the procedures you will use to decide whether the studies you initially uncover match the inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria
- register the protocol in a website
- decide how you will extract and synthesize data from these studies
- determine how you will evaluate the validity of these studies--and how you will utilize this information
Systematic literature reviews integrate the results of many quantitative studies. If you also want to include the results of qualitative studies, you can use other approaches, such as meta-ethnography. The webpage on research methods outlines these other approaches.
To conduct a systematic literature review, you need to comply with a series of guidelines. The following table outlines these guidelines
|Documents to read||Content of documents|
|Demonstrates how to construct a research question and to clarify the purpose of your review|
|Reveals how to identify the appropriate studies|
|Shows you how to then extract, enter, and synthesize the data in these studies|
|Demonstrates how to identify and respond to biases in these studies|
|Stipulates which information to include in the report--called the Prisma checklist|
|Introduces meta-analyses--used to estimate the average effect of some intervention or treatment across multiple studies. Meta-analysis is often regarded as the statistical phase of systematic reviews|
|Summarizes some of the software you might utilize to facilitate these systematic reviews.|
Other skills that facilitate literature reviews
When conducting literature reviews, you should also learn the skills that are outlined in these documents.
|Documents to read||Content of these documents|
|Discusses how to search the grey literature--sources other than journals or books such as theses, government reports, conference posters, and even working papers. These sources can be useful, especially for systematic reviews|
|Demonstrates bibliometric analyses--statistical measures of how the number and impact of publications on your topic vary across time, nations, institutions, funding bodies, and so forth. These analyses can be published and can help you understand the literature better as well|