Writing Coaching // Starting a Literature Review

It’s been a long, though not a lazy, summer. My editing business is blossoming, so much so that I’ve decided to send my son to preschool. He’s starting this week. It’s strange to have so much time to work again, so much brain power to commit to my own endeavours. I haven’t felt like this since before he was born, when I was spending 50 to 60 hours a week teaching.

One of the ventures that I’m most excited about is writing coaching. Although I work on a freelance basis with several individual authors, during the summer and now into the fall semester, I’ve gotten to work with students from one particular university. The university is funding the writing coaching. Can we pause for a moment and talk about what a great idea that is? For students to have access to the writing help they need and not have to pay for it themselves?

The students frequently ask about literature reviews. There’s no doubt that this chapter is a beast. I’ve found myself repeating several tips to help make this monstrous chapter more manageable. The first is very basic: begin by reading.

Expect to look through dozens of articles for masters-level work and at least 50 when you’re starting your dissertation, more as you go along.  At first, you don’t have to read every word of every article, but you will need to read more than the free abstract if you want to use it in your dissertation. Make sure you know how to access journal articles through your institution.

Make sure you keep track of what you read. As I’m reading, I like to note the author, title, and link to the article.  Clients have recommend Mendeley and Zotero to me as citation managers. My husband prefers Evernote. I’m a bit messy while I’m reading, so I keep notes on sticky notes and a Microsoft Word document. I like to be able to manipulate my notes later on.

Most importantly, validate your work. Even though this is reading, consider this writing time. Even though you’re consuming information, consider it productive. This first step of compiling a literature review is important, hard work. Give yourself credit for that.

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