The Study Dude – Six Steps to Success

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to know how to sound like a seasoned pro?at the PhD or professorial level?in your discipline by doing things such as scouting out subject dictionaries and subject year books.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s focus is on a book titled The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success by Lawrence A. Machi and Brenda T. McEvoy.

What Makes You Ideal for A Role as a Potential Graduate Student or Professor?
There are certain traits that make a person suited for academic media-related work, such as writing for The Voice Magazine or for a University radio or television program. For instance, as the Study Dude, prior to writing these articles, I would often read books in full on how to study–even when I was temporarily no longer enrolled in an educational institution. I have a natural curiosity for the subject matter that can’t be satiated by just reading one book, and I love learning about how to learn. Yet, working for mainstream media would not appeal to me as the ethics in the stories?especially when they tear apart someone’s reputation in an online instant?are questionable.

Similarly, there are certain qualities that would make someone ideal for a researcher’s role. Machi and McEvoy (2012) outline these characteristics:

– You are passionate for learning and for discovering new ideas.
– When evidence or data is missing from the equation?or even lacking?you are very aware of the omission or shortcoming.
– You have a high level of curiosity that cannot be easily satisfied.
– You are able to ignore any biases, opinions, or values in favour of objectively letting the data speak for itself.
– You are open-minded and objective.
– You tend to enjoy making patterns and connections in information.
– You are a critical thinker who seeks value and truth.
– You like to make research claims that are founded on strong evidence and relevant data.
– You like to be engrossed in detailed, painstaking work.
– You tend to question everything in life.
– You have a high level of ethics and would never plagiarise.

Use Special Resources for Adding the Pro Touch to Your Research
There was one missing ingredient in my graduate education?an ingredient that could have greatly simplified the research process while adding a high level of sophistication. Even in the undergraduate program, when I would seek out a research topic, I relied on library books and research articles?especially the indices of the books?to gauge what I should discuss in the papers.

While I achieved high grades using this approach, there is a much more robust method for researching a topic that will get you brilliant grades going forward. This approach will up your paper grades handsomely at the undergraduate level and set you up for potentially winning an award for your research at the graduate level.

Machi and McEvoy divulge some simple resources that will up the ante on your performance level in choosing a sophisticated academic topic for your next paper–or even for your future thesis:
– As each discipline has its own specialized vocabulary, it is wise for you to start your research endeavour by accessing a subject dictionary and a subject thesaurus. For instance, the dictionary of education would be a starting point for anyone wanting to enter the education discipline, of course. Familiarity with the subject dictionary/thesaurus will enable you to find the most advantageous keywords for your thesis or paper topic statement, while lending a professional tone?and structure?to your thesis.
– Access and familiarize yourself with subject encyclopaedias and subject handbooks. Take these steps after delving into the subject dictionary and thesaurus, as you can take your newly refined keywords to hone in on relevant areas in the subject encyclopaedias and handbooks. Handbooks are ideal for relaying evolutions of theories and conveying a succinct overview of the subject area. Handbooks also delve into current issues. Encyclopaedias will also explore theories while examining relevant authors and contributors.
– Also search subject yearbooks.
– Get to know your research librarians and your library system. Let your librarian know your research interest or budding topic statement. Ask your librarian for help winnowing crucial articles from the reams of papers and books in the library database.

Use Keywords in Topic Statements when Searching the Literature
Wouldn’t you love to streamline the literature search for your next paper? When I was in graduate studies, I had a fuzzy idea of what I would search, accessing my materials on the very first day the assignment was given. I would get at least ten books and over twenty articles, later winnowing them down to about sixteen articles and half as many books for inclusion in the paper. I always found that a voluminous reference section led to higher grades?and a more interesting paper.

I would skim read the articles at a fast pace, highlighting anything that seemed of interest, while placing a keyword that summed up the selection beside the highlighted material.

Yet, there is a much savvier approach to searching the literature that will take you to the next level. Machi and McEvoy (2012) reveal the intricacies of making your literature search strategic:

– Refine your keywords in your topic statement with the subject dictionaries and thesauruses, as well as with the subject encyclopaedias and handbooks.
– Query the library database by these keywords?and don’t forget their synonyms and antonyms found in the subject thesauruses?or query the library database by the authors found in, say, the subject encyclopedia.
– Make these keywords central themes in your literature review and even forge new terms for themes based on your library search.
– You can organize a mind map kind of structure of the data by these themes, or through other schematics, such as devoting one section to theory evolution, another to salient categories/themes, yet another to various definitions, and another still to various examples.
– Perhaps the best idea for structuring your literature review is organizing each core idea according to each keyword in your topic sentence, and then breaking it down further from there.
– Also, if authors have written multiple books, make author mind maps, where you put the author’s name in the center and branch out with each book, breaking each book or article down further by subtopics of key (and ideally relevant) points made.
– The literature you find will let you know if your topic is too broad or too specific. You can narrow it down by demographic traits or reducing the keywords in your topic statement; you can broaden it by changing your keywords to be more accurate or to cover a larger or more defined scope.
– Write your thoughts, findings, and ideas in journals and memoranda for record.
– The last step in this preliminary search of the literature is to refine your topic statement, which is an ongoing process when writing a thesis.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Machi, Lawrence A., & McEvoy, Brenda T. (2012). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.