Saturday, 14 February 2009

Annotated bibliographies

All research involves starting with what is known on a topic and building on it. All research projects need some basic work to enable the researchers to produce something that is developmental and useful. Comprehensive literature searchers are important, but probably quite rare, especially in our field. Here is a process that ought to be followed, and that research supervisors and funders should encourage and support:
  1. Discovery – find out what has been published based on a shortlist of keywords agreed among the members of the research team, or between student and supervisor.
  2. Retrieval – acquire the documents, preferably electronically, so that they can be placed in a closed repository for the research team.
  3. Evaluation – for each document, ascertain whether it is relevant, perhaps revising the list of search terms as a result, and develop definitions of terms for a glossary of concepts that cites publications where specific definitions are used, given or implied.
  4. Classification – for each document decide what this is about in relation to the emerging glossary of concepts (terms) and also in terms of whether it appears to the result of research, experience or personal opinion.
  5. Description – for each document, provide a few sentences that summarize its relevance to the project
There are two outputs from this process. First, a list of key concepts, with associated keywords for searching on, with each concept defined by reference to the literature, including the full range of referenced definitions for concepts that are contentious, and definitive definitions for those where there is consensus. Second, an annotated bibliography, probably in bibliographic software such as EndNote, which will provide the research team with the basis on which they can critically evaluate the quality of past research and write up a strong literature review. Both the Glossary of Concepts and the Annotated Bibliography can form appendices of any published research report.

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