Category Archives: publish or perish!

The comparative method

  1. The Phenomenon: what is the object of study?
  2. Outcome: define the outcome and determine the binary conditions (i.e. what constitute presence/absence)
  3. The degree of analysis (which is flexible)
    • How many cases?
    • How many variables?
  4. What are the theories we wish to test?
  5. Determine the key variables as mentioned by those theories (as well as their binary conditions)
  6. Collect data on cases and create the truth table
    • Outcome
    • Variables
  7. Reduce and perform Boolean analysis
  8. Factoring, if required
  9. Edit, revise, edit, revise, etc

For more, see Charles Ragin, “The Comparative Method“.

Writing a literature review

The primary objective of a literature review is to summarise and synthesise the available research on a given topic. It establishes that you are aware of the relevant literature, and have the capacity to understand it and set it in context.

Reading an Article

@JessicaCalarco has some good advice, including [Only] “read as much of each article/book as it takes to identify the:

  • Research question
  • Data/methods
  • Argument/answer
  • Key evidence supporting the argument/answer
  • Limitations (i.e., what questions it doesn’t answer; what perspectives or possibilities it doesn’t consider)”

Planning the Literature Review

  • Define the topic
  • Conduct a broad search to assemble a long list of references
  • Evaluate the long list to create several key references
    • Pay particular attention to the academic merits of each publication
      • How prestigious is the journal that it was published in?
      • How much impact has it had on future work?
      • How renowned is the author?
    • But don’t neglect less established work that you feel has significant merit
  • Analyse the findings by identify key themes
    • Group references into similar categories: you should analyse themes (ideas) rather than each individual paper (sources)
    • Each section in the literature review should focus on a separate category
    • These categories can be organised in different ways
      • Methodologically
      • Thematically
      • Empirically
      • Chronologically
      • Geographically

Writing it Up

  1. Set the scene
    • The introduction should define the key topic and outline the basis of your argument
  2. Be wary of chronology
    • For each category introduce papers in a chronological order, especially if using phrases such as “in response”, “then”, “leading to” etc.
  3. Be critical, not merely descriptive
    • A descriptive literature review merely describes the key points of each paper
    • A critical literature review demonstrates your personal judgement
    • What are the limitations of the papers?
    • What are the holes in the literature?
  4. Illuminate the interplay between the literature
    • Which papers are parts of a similar/common trend?
    • Which papers are critical of each other – and what are the strengths/weaknesses of each side?
    • Highlight controversy
  5. Be succinct
    • A good literature review will summarise a complex argument in one sentence. An excellent literature review will arrange those sentences so that the simplification doesn’t lose the context/meaning.
  6. Use references and quotations for supportive evidence
    • When you refer to a concept that is associated with one particular paper, cite the paper
    • Use quotations to support your points
    • Short quotations can be made within a paragraph
    • Longer quotations should be a separate paragraph
    • You must document all sources. If in doubt always provide more information than you think is necessary
    • Be wary of Ariel Rubinstein’s warning, relating to interdisciplinary research, that “often the citation is just intended to demonstrate the breadth of our horizons” (2012, p.200)
  7. Draw things together
    • The conclusion should summarise the key argument and draw your analysis together
    • Provide a full bibliography
  8. Revise the document, edit, re-read, revise, edit, re-read etc…
    • Remember: “All writing is work, and all work is work-in-progress” James Buchanan