As many PhD students will tell you, doing a literature review can be a daunting task. And for students in social sciences, that task begins when your studies begin… and it would seem that it never ends! Well, at least that’s my personal experience with the things. After all, I’m half-way through my PhD* and the thing still isn’t done. It just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.
Of course, hindsight being what it is, I know where I went wrong. And if I had it all to do over again, I would be in a place of happiness right now. Or at least I wouldn’t be quite this frustrated with the process. (Well, that’s my working theory at least.)
Part of the problem I’ve run into is that I am studying outside of my comfort zone. I am doing a PhD in information science, but my background is communications and media and culture. And I thought (incorrectly!) that my background in social media would have set me up for this experience. But I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Only I didn’t realise how wrong I was until after I’d compiled a fairly lengthy (and decent, if I can say so) literature review. It was a comprehensive review of literature about social media and reputation. And it really covered a wide breadth of disciplines—all helping to substantiate my research.
And then someone mentioned a few researchers from within the field of information science that I’d not really looked at before. After all, the papers weren’t about social media and had (I thought!) a very tenuous link to my work.
But I was encouraged to keep reading. So I read. And I read. And I read. And all of the sudden, I found myself understanding the connections—and understanding so much more about the domain of information science.
Now, I find myself reading even more—and growing my review even further. But I’m also realising that I’ve made a massive mountain out of a mid-sized molehill.
So, knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently? (Other than the “write early; write often” lesson I wrote about before.)
The truth is, I don’t know. I think that maybe I needed to ask different questions at the start of my literature searching. Or, importantly, I should have recognised earlier on that I was in a discipline that was unfamiliar to me so that I could have started to read some of the “introductory” texts earlier than I did.
Yes—that! I should have stopped to realise that I didn’t fully understand the field of information science so that I could have built a stronger foundation from the start. Instead, I’ve had to backfill large sections of my knowledge.
The good thing is that my literature review is starting to make a lot more sense now. And—hopefully!—this extra work now will save me some effort and frustration when it comes time to write up my thesis.
The other good thing is that I have learned some important lessons about literature reviews, my new field of study, and—importantly!—myself.
There is still much work to do—for my literature view, my PhD, and my own self-esteem—but I’m getting there. Slowly.
And maybe now that I am feeling a bit more confident, I’ll be able to write here on Just a PhD a bit more. (I’ve been ignoring this place because I haven’t felt worthy of writing about a PhD when I haven’t even felt worthy of doing one!)
So, that’s a bit more on how not to do a literature review. Hopefully, by the end of it, I will be able to give some great insight to how I will do my next one!
* Well, I’m half-way through my PhD studentship anyhow. At this rate, it’s going to take me a bit longer than the three years of funded studies. So that’s a stress I’ll have to worry about eventually.