Helen writes: find the gap

Continuing her occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams reflects on what it means to find a gap when writing your literature review.

The fact that doctoral research must be original and fill some kind of ‘gap’ in the literature is trotted out all the time, particularly to PGRs in their first year or so of study who may still be grappling with all the existing research on their topic. But how do you search for an absence? How do you identify something that isn’t there?

It can feel like a somewhat impossible task, especially if there are reams of articles, chapters and books that have been written on your topic. One answer could be changing the parameters of your research slightly; focusing on a specific and under-researched angle might tick that ‘originality’ box in a field that is saturated with research. However, if this isn’t practical, or you’re already fairly set on what research you want to carry out, it might be that you need to try to record your reading in a way that makes that gap more obvious.

Continue reading “Helen writes: find the gap”

What’s the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?

In this post, Sue Stevens, a Research Skills Advisor in Library Services, talks about systematic literature reviews.

This is a question that I’m often asked, or I have a request to help someone with a systematic review, only to find that what they really need help with is a systematic search of the literature for a literature review.  So what is the difference? Continue reading “What’s the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?”

Spotlight on the RDF: “Synthesising”

In one of our occasional series of spotlights, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

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Image credit: National Eye Institute

Synthesis has a number of meanings in the OED, but the one that is relevant here is “the putting together of parts or elements so as to make up a complex whole” [1] and being able to put together parts and elements from the research literature and create a complex whole is a critical skill in literature review.  It’s relatively straight-forward to write a summary of the literature in your research area, but a proper literature review goes further and uses the existing literature to create a “complex whole” where new knowledge or understanding has been created.   Continue reading “Spotlight on the RDF: “Synthesising””

Feedback’s coming home!

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Our helpful and honest panel of PGRs at the PGR Writing Summer School 2018. L-R: Martine, Sian, Anna, Farhan, Frankie, Tom

This week, we’ve had the annual PGR Writing Summer School, with a range of insightful workshops on various aspects of academic and thesis writing.  And, of course, we’ve had national excitement around England’s place in the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.  I’d been wondering how to tie these together for this blog, when this article on football psychology caught my eye, and chimed with a couple of comments made during the Writing Summer School.  How can we build our resilience to tackle a fear of failure and deal with difficult feedback constructively? Continue reading “Feedback’s coming home!”

Learning to think critically

Soon-to-be Dr Naomi Green, from the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, talks about developing critical thinking “through osmosis”.

I have just passed my viva for my PhD thesis in Biomedical Engineering and I have been reflecting on my postgraduate experience and the skills I have learnt.  One of the key skills all PhD students are supposed to pick up during their research is the ability to think critically. But what does critical thinking mean and how do you learn to do it? Continue reading “Learning to think critically”