1. literature search

An important skill and habit to develop when one decides to do research is to read.  For example, in any scientific publication is a section about the literature related to the topic.

However to do a proper literature search is something one has to learn. When I arrived to EdTech I was clueless of a lot of the basics, including literature search. Matti, who was finishing his PhD at the time was very kind and explained me in a nutshell about literature search.  I kept his words carefully.

Over six years later I still have a value of Matti’s words and I am aware that others need this input as well. So, I decide to publish  his advices, after asking him if he allows me to do so, and he accepted 🙂

Just remember, the email was written when my focus was complete unfocussed. In other words, I knew my research was on games, culture, technology, education, inclusion, nature, ……   So if you put yourself in my situation in 2006, the email will make even more sense. Also it is the proof that if I am learning this, then anyone else can do it as well 🙂

On 15/03/2006 10:55, Matti Tedre wrote:

some tricks for literature search -- I seriously suggest that you save 
this email because I'm not going to write the same things a second 

This is called "literature search" and I assume you haven't done it 

1. Find out who the *authorities* are in your (broad) field.

This you'll achieve by browsing through a lot of articles that are 
similar to what you're gonna do, and paying special attention to the 
references.  You'll soon find out who's everybody referring to.  See 
if people are agreeing with the authorities or disagreeing with them.  
You'll need to show that you've read the classics.  For instance, 
Johannes told that a classic work on educational games is 

	Malone, T.W. 1981. Toward a theory of 
	intrinsically motivating instruction. 
	Cognitive Science, 4:333-369.

Unfortunately, no-one has actually seen the article, but hey! after a 
little bit of browsing and searching you'll find that it's reprinted 

	Decker F. Walker, Robert D. Hess, eds., 1984.
	Instructional software : principles and 
	perspectives for design and use 	

which is available at our library.  

I'm sure that you'll bump many enough times to Hofstede's work that 
you'll need to read Cultures and Organizations.  I've got a copy if 
you can't get one from the library (however, as some people have 
ruined already two of my books (red wine; juice), I'm not that eager 
to borrow books anymore).

The point is: You'll need to do this kind of a classic-finding A LOT.  
What I do nowadays when I need to quickly get myself acquainted with 
a new topic, I first search the Internet e-library databases for 
JOURNAL articles that deal with the topic, and then I go and spend 
some days in the library.  Books are your best friend in this task.

About literature:

USE A LOT: books and refereed journals with page numbers.
USE SPARINGLY: refereed e-journals (no pg. numbers), conf. proceedings
USE WITH EXTREME CAUTION: stuff that you've found in the net but the 
origin of which you can't point out, or the origin of which is not 
academical.  I wouldn't recommend ANY of this stuff.

However, you can use web sites as your _source material_ (which is the 
stuff you make your analysis about).  But you can't use web sites as 
your _literature_ (which is the theoretical-conceptual basis of your 

2. Find out the main viewpoints (*schools*) to the topic.

This you'll find out by reading studies, paying attention to 
viewpoints.  People sharing same ideas about research usually 
approach the questions from the same angle and use the same reference 
material.  You can call them 'schools' if you like.  At some point 
you'll need to decide which school you'll side with.  You can't 
please 'em all.

There's no inherently "best" school, ever.  The schools exist exactly 
because of that.  Some schools emphasize different things than 

3. Find out what is the critique that other schools have against each 

Find also out the latest debate about the choice of schools.  For 
instance, if you choose to join the quantitative-statistical 
cross-cultural research tradition, then you'll need to know the 
critique of it.  Find out also the current discussion and debate 
within the tradition.  At your field it's important to show that you 
know what's going on.

4. The Point of Literature Saturation

At some point, you'll find out that your references are increasingly 
pointing at stuff you've already read.  When you're at the point 
where you can determine the article's viewpoint by looking at the 
reference list, you must stop reading.  Then you're ready.

And the most important thing:


Save every pdf you read.  For each book you read, make sure you write 
down the complete reference (name, year, edition, publisher, address, 
complete name of the author, the page numbers you quote).  I CANNOT 
emphasize this enough, yet this is something that everyone has to 
learn the hard way.  It is totally frustrating to have to find out 
all your references second time because the editor of some journal 
wants to have more comprehensive reference information than those 
that you wrote down.


Thank you Matti for your advice on time some years ago!

And,  in my personal opinion, the literature search is an activity done beyond research. In other words is is also relevant in business and industry. One has to learn to search, get a habit of reading and find proper evidence to sustain one’s arguments!

Other books for learning literature review will be posted in this page.

Leave a Reply