Manage your time effectively
Specify a clear research question
Understand your research methodology
Construct a comprehensive search strategy
Engage critically with the literature
Leave no stone unturned in your search for resources
Think carefully about how to structure your argument
Write with an analytical style
Make the most of Word
Seek help when you need it
For your dissertation you’ll be expected not just to describe the sources that you’ve read, but to make connections between them and to analyse each source thoroughly. You should therefore take an analytical approach to how you read sources and take notes.
It’s a good idea when reading academic sources to have a strategy in mind; you won’t be reading to understand everything in a single source, but neither do you want to miss any of the important points. One useful approach is the SQR3 method: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. This kind of active approach to your reading makes it much easier to understand what you’ve read and to make important connections with other material. It’s especially important to question as you read; form questions for yourself about what you have read, but also think about what might be missing from the source. Do you need to look elsewhere to refute or corroborate what you’ve read?
A large part of the dissertation process will be spent searching and reading. You’ll want to be as efficient as possible so that you don’t spend all of your time reading; at some point you’ll have to move on to the next stage. If you’re reading a journal article, read the abstract (a summary of the methodology and findings) first and use that to target specific sections which you might need to read for more detail. If you’re reading a book, identify the most relevant chapters and then see if there are any summaries to guide your reading in a similar way.
It’s hugely important, especially at the level of a dissertation, to evaluate all of the sources that you find; you mustn’t take anything at face value. Think, for example, about the type of literature that you’re including. Is it all appropriately academic? Has each source used a rigorous methodology within its research? Does it contain current, up-to-date information? Is there any bias, overt or implied, in your sources? It’s not necessarily a problem to include sources in any of these cases, but you’ll need to be honest about any limitations in your analysis of the literature.
You should also be aware of your own bias; are you choosing to read only those sources which agree with your point of view? Remember that a literature review is supposed to represent the literature as it is, not as we want it to be. It’s therefore essential to refer even to those sources which show a completely different, possibly contrary, perspective to your own. We’ll talk more about this in Tip 8.
For more support with reading critically, explore our Skills Guide.