There is, potentially, a great deal of material to get through in undertaking the reading for the literature review. Some of it may be quite difficult - coming to grips with complex concepts and detailed research reports.
It is important, therefore, that you approach reading in a way which makes it most effective from day one. This is a skill which, the more you practise, the better and faster you can become.
At the heart of the skill is knowing how to approach reading a particular source. You do not need to read everything. You do, though, need to study in some depth material that is relevant to your particular needs. There are a number of elements to this.
• Be clear about the focus of the review.
• Get an overview of the publication, for example by reading the contents page, the introduction and the conclusion.
• Having identified the relevance of a publication and which parts you need to study, "skim-read" them. This is rapid reading, aiming to get a general impression of the material before starting to study it in depth. It is actually easier to follow arguments if we keep going reasonably quickly through the material, than to slow down and try to understand each separate sentence or phrase in detail. In practice, it is better to read something through twice, rather than to read it once at half the speed.
• In-depth reading may be either receptive or reflective. In receptive mode, you are reading quickly and in a relaxed way - aiming to get a good feel for the subject and listening to what the author has to say. In reflective mode, you are working more slowly - analysing, comparing and evaluating the content. Give yourself time to do this properly. You need to reflect and consider the material after your initial reading, and probably then to re-read it with specific questions in mind.
• Remember your overall focus when reading in this way. It is useful to think of questions about the material - how will it assist your understanding, how does it relate to other material, what approach is adopted to particular themes, etc. In particular, question the material to help you frame your research issue or problem, so that you are constantly tightening its definition and, thus, focusing on the key aspects for your research.
• Make notes - this is the key to effective understanding as well as providing the basis for recall at a later stage. We shall consider note taking in more detail below.
• Review the material once more when you have finished the in-depth reading and note taking. Scan the content to ensure that you have an accurate overall understanding of what the author is putting across.