How to write a Literature Review?

When I started my PhD I thought my topic is so brand new, there is hardly anything out there I can read. Well, that was a bit blund.

There is loads of grey-literature available – referring to the same pilot projects and problem statements regarding smart cities on a quite generic level. Besides – same applies when I visit conferences! On the academic side there are papers on segment specific solutions from a technological and governmental standpoint. Well, therefore it is true that – so far – I havn’t found literature that exactly covers my approach: looking at Smart Cities from an industry perspective.

Job done? No, by far not – illusion is taken!

Prof. Rob Dekkers of UWS started a seminar (via Skype – quite cool way of educating actually) on “Structured Literature Review” that I visit. Wow! That is a science of its own! And it took the illusion “There is no literature in my area – review done!” Forget it! If you want to bring light to the darkness and don’t have a floodlight by hand start lighting some matches! Sounds like an awfull lot of work!

How to make sure the PhD is finished before retirement?

As I look at the business environment Smart City and its impact on technology providers there are all sorts of topics involved. Never in two lives will I be able to read all the good stuff out there! Especially when I summarize and synthesise all I read. Where shall I start? How do I know what literature is relevant? What if I miss core information? And last but not least: When is it enough?

Well, I learnt that it is key to circle the topic. I need to translate the topic into focussed questions and define parameters, generate keywords. Then conduct search, obtain information, evaluate, draft the hypothesis, redefine parameters, refine keywords, search, obtain, evaluate again…. and keep on circling until I am finally able to nail the topic down.
To quote from the seminar “Clearly framed questions ‘guide much of the review process including strategies for locating and selecting studies or data, for critically appraising their relevance and validity, and for analysing variation among their results’ (Higgins & Green 2008 (Cochrane Handbook))”

So the literature review outlines my point of departure. It is my foundation a) from which I develop own insights and arguments and b) that supports my findings.

But how make I sure that the (academic) reference is relevant?

So far I thought reading textbooks is a reliable source of information. Too blund again…
Content acknowledged by others an of course state-of-the-art is one thing to look at. Structure is the other but credibility is key! I learnt, that chapters edited books are more trustworthy than textbooks. The chapters are nearly as much peer-reviewed as academic papers.

So I focus now on publications in journals, chapter edited books, monographs, reports by really recognized institutions.

Where to find relevant and trustworthy literature?

Well, as much as I love google, definitely not there. I was also a fan of Springer Link, but just learnt to be aware that this source might not cover all relevant information.

So I will familiarize myself with Google Scholar, Scopus and ABI-Inform now.
As the search output will probably still be huge I was quite impressed to learn about lists that rank journals according to relevance. Great!

We also learnt about search techniques… but that will be topic for another post 😉
I think the “Delphi Survey” could be a helpful method for my approach. Let’s see!