- Look at the number of citations as an indication of quality
- Make your keywords more specific
- Scan the abstract and make a quick decision as to whether it will be relevant or not
7. Filter again
You might not be able to read everything in depth immediately. From the papers you selected, give them a ranking A, B, or C.
A = must read, highly relevant, high quality
B = unsure, probably relevant, but not yet sure how
C = probably irrelevant, not what you thought it was when you read the titleIf you’ve printed them , put the letter A, B, or C on the front so you can tell quickly when you come back to them (maybe months or years later).
8. Use other people’s bibliographies
Even if you can only find one good quality paper, read the introduction carefully and see who they cite. There may be a few gems there you didn’t find with the search engine. Also see who else has cited that one paper since it was published (this is also a very quick way to update your bibliography if you are coming back to it a year or more later).
9. Get to know the big players
In any research field, no matter how specialised, there will be leading experts or competing research groups. Figure out who they are, and read their work.
10. Make sure your research idea is original
As the saying goes, you can’t prove a negative. How can you prove that nobody else has done what you plan to do, without searching every paper ever published? Well, it’s worth spending a day or two searching every keyword combination you can think of related to your specific research plan.
11. Write about ideas
When you finally start writing your literature review, focus on ideas and use examples from the literature to illustrate them. Don’t just write about every paper you have found (I call this the telephone-directory approach), as it will be tedious to write and impossible to read. The aim should always be to cite the best and most relevant research, rather than going for sheer quantity.
12. Remember, you aren’t writing a textbook
So you can leave out big chunks. Write about what is relevant to your research.
13. Vary the detail
When talking about a broad topic, only cite the very, very best papers. You’ll have a lot to choose from , so why choose anything but the best? Then when you get into more specialised sections, you can include a larger number of less well-known papers (but still the highest quality you can find).
14. Don’t cite anything …
Don’t cite anything you haven’t read or don’t understand.
15. Get experience
Your perspective on the literature will be quite different once you have done your own research. If you are in your first year, get your literature review done quickly so you can move on with your own work, and don’t let it hold you back. It takes time to figure out what makes a good paper and what makes a bad one, and that comes with experience of carrying out research, talking to other researchers, and just reading more.