Methods Lit Review Challenge: Keeping Track

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A MethodSpace focus for March is on steps for reviewing literature to situate it in a research tradition. We are parsing this definition of the literature review: “a systematic syntheses of previous work around a particular topic” and examining it piece by piece (Salkind, 2010, p. 726).  This post continues an exploration of the first keyword in system. See the previous post for related open access resources.

Pick a system and use it consistently.

Keeping track of literature is a challenge. It is a moving target: every day it seems that new journal issues are published, with yet more articles to consider. Then there are conference proceedings, books, and other potentially relevant resources. When I taught, I communicated this message to my doctoral students: pick a system, any system, and stick with it!

Here are a two options:

  • Create a classification table specifically focused on methods.
  • Use data analysis software to code resources.

Create a classification table specifically focused on methods.

This is a simple and low-tech way to proceed, particularly when you are trying to keep track of the research approaches being used in other studies of your topic. Use Word, Excel, or whatever software you prefer, and create a table where you can record key elements necessary to analyze the methods dimensions of the resources you are reviewing. Here is an example:

Create a table for notes about the methods used in the books and articles you read.

With this information at hand you can readily see that your topic has primarily been studied using quantitative methods, meaning your qualitative study could make a contribution. Or, you can see that the unit of analysis has been the individual, meaning your study of groups could offer new perspectives.

You could also create a table to use when reviewing methods resources. If you have piles of books and articles about phenomenology or survey methods, use a table to note distinctive characteristics each methodologist recommends. When you can see your collection at a glance, you have the basis to compare and contrast the perspectives represented in the literature. Do all of the sources agree, or are there distinctly different schools of thought? Are there best practices all should use, or are there good reasons to do things differently? What approaches best fit your own study?

Create a table for notes about the methods literature you read.

I posted these Word tables in a Google Drive. Access them here.

Use qualitative data analysis software to code resources.

Qualitative data analysis software, often described using the acronym CAQDAS (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis) is designed to be used for coding large quantities of narrative data. This is an approach any researcher can use to organize and manage research ideas whether in literature about method or studies about your topic. While a full CAQDAS package can be pricey, there are student discounts as well as more basic free tools you can use for this purpose.

Here are a few open access resources that explain how and why to use software for this purpose:

Here are some video demonstrations using Nvivo or Atlas.t.i.:

Related MethodSpace posts:

What is your approach? Use the comment area to share additional ideas or resources.

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