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Literature Reviews - Research Guide

Critical Reading and Analysis

Critical Reading & Analysis

When reading critically, focus on the purpose of your literature review:

  • Think about what you expect from the article or chapter, before reading it
  • Skim the abstract, headings, conclusion, and the first sentence of each paragraph
  • Focus on the arguments presented rather than facts
  • Take notes as you read and start to organise your review around themes and ideas
  • Consider using a table, matrix or concept map to identify how the different sources relate to each other
  • Note four to six points for each study that summarises the main points and conclusions
  • Be as objective as possible

Analysing your sources

Consider the following criteria:

  • Relevance - Is the article relevant to your topic?  Is the research methodology comprehensively described?
  • Currency - Is the source up-to-date? Does it consider the latest research on your topic?
  • Reliability - Is the source peer-reviewed? How reputable is the source and what is its impact factor?
  • Authority - Is the author from a reputable institution? Have you seen the author cited in other sources?
  • Provenance - Are the author's arguments supported by evidence (primary material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent findings)?
  • Persuasiveness - Which of the author's arguments are most/least convincing?
  • Objectivity -  What is the purpose of the article and its intended audience? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point? Can you detect any bias in the content?
  • Accuracy - Does the data support the conclusions drawn? Is the article properly referenced?
  • Value - Are the author's opinions and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

Note Taking

Taking clear, legible notes will help to focus your critical reading and analysis of your literature review sources. When taking notes, avoid plagiarism by:

  •  keeping track of the difference between information from your sources and from your own ideas
  •  providing clear references, including page numbers

Note taking methods

Some effective methods of note-taking include:

  • Outlining method: Use headings, sub-headings and bullet points to organize topics
  • Cornell method: Use two columns - in one column write your summary of the authors' conclusions and evidence, and in the other column write down your own analysis and other comments
  • Charting method: Create a list of topics or points you want to write about - use a column for each one. As you read, add references and make notes in the appropriate column
  • Sentence method: Simply write down new ideas and bits of information as a numbered  sentence
  • Mapping method: Write down key concepts and terms, with related ideas radiating out from these

You may consider using the matrix below for your note taking and analysis:


Critical Reading & Analysis Checklist

  1. Does your literature review highlight flaws, gaps, or shortcomings of specific texts or groups of texts?
  2. Have you identified areas that have not yet been researched or have not yet been researched sufficiently?
  3. Does the literature demonstrate a change over time or recent developments that make your research relevant now?
  4. Are you ablle to discuss research methods used to study this topic and/or related topics?
  5. Can you clearly state why your research is necessary?