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Critical Literature Review

General Reminders

• The tighter the topic, the better the essay

• Use the template!

• Use good sources:

• Peer reviewed scholarly literature?

• High quality news sources (only if you want to report events)

• Avoid tertiary sources (e.g. blogs) unless you want to comment on ‘public opinion’

• Consider signposting, especially at the end of paragraphs: how is this idea relevant to your overall argument?

• You MUST use quotation marks and in-text citations if you use others’ words

• You MUST include in-text citations if you use others’ ideas.

• Appointments now available

Steps for writing the Critical Literature Review

1. Scoping

• Be clear on the word length

• Find a key article or articles of interest

• Define and refine your topic/question

2. Gathering material and sources

• Distinguish primary, secondary & tertiary sources

• Read and summarise your main sources

• Make `random` notes on relevant material and points

• Identify your `position` or central argument

• Search for related sources as your argument emerges

3. Planning

• Establish a central argument

• Plan each section and paragraph (sections are optional)

• Structure around an argument: claims, reasons, evidence, and (maybe) warrants

4. Writing

• Summarise key sources

• Emphasise main points

• Show awareness of different kinds of sources

• Cite and Reference sources

5. Reviewing

• For clarity, structure and formatting

To write well, you want to consider two competing goals

Energetic, enthusiastic, exciting ....!!

• You need to convey that your review is significant and worth attention.

Careful, cautious, disciplined and detailed.

• You need to convey that your review is sound.

Define and Refine your Topic / Question

• Broad topic: identify a general area of interest, probably one of the weekly themes in Impacts of Digitisation.

From that, identify:

• Focused topic: identify a sub-topic that is:

a) different from the sub-topics discussed in the relevant lecture, and b) small enough to fit a 2000 word essay


• Convert to a question: work out a question form of your focused topic, to make your CLR have the aim to answer this question

• Define your argument: establish what your position is on this question

• Identify the significance: Consider why it is important to answer your question. Who is it important to? For what reasons? Include a sense of significance in your CLR.


• Broad topic: eGovernment

• Focused topic: Digital technologies and the openness of government.

• Convert to a question: Are digital technologies making government more open?

• Define your argument: Despite great promise, digital technologies are not yet making government more open.

• Significance: This is a question of great political importance. It is also an important for understanding the ways that new ICTs transform traditional ways of organising, and how they might be transforming society.

Choosing Sources

• primary - raw data, facts and figures from a reliable source

• secondary - scholarly/professional writing by experts in the topic area who are developing original analysis and/or presenting original evidence

• tertiary - writing that presents material for a general non- expert audience, such as Wikipedia, newspaper articles, teaching text-books

Identifying reputable secondary sources

• Does it conform to a scholarly / professional standard – e.g. does it systematically cite all of its sources

• Is it produced by a reputable publisher or reputable online editorial process?

• Is it cited by other reputable sources?

Using a secondary source to identify a topic

• If you agree with the position taken in an article you might:

– apply it to another situation or find other evidence to support it, show that it neatly explains or accounts for another case, identify other logical reasons to support it

• If you disagree with the position taken in an article you might:

– point out logical contradictions within the position, identify other reasons against it, identify evidence that it does not fit, introduce a qualification where it might not apply


• Organise your CLR around your main argument

• Sketch out a plan of what each paragraph/section will cover. The main substance of your CLR will be taken up with

• Key definitions of terms, summaries of articles, illustrations, your argument and commentary

• Note the argument parts will only be a small (but important) part of the text.

Avoid these structures

• A history of how you came to your view; i.e. what you read first, then read next ... and how your thoughts changed as you read more

• A patchwork of sources – i.e. a list of quotes or summaries without your own analysis and thinking to relate them together 

Example of what not to do: A patchwork

Garson defined eGovernment as `the provision of governmental services by electronic means, usually over the Internet.` Curtin (2007) stated that `e-government is the use of ICTs by government to operate more effectively and transparently; to provide more and better information and services to the public`. The influential World Bank site defines it as `the use by government agencies of information technologies that have the ability to transform the relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government (World Bank, 2009).

Constructing an Argument

Arguments are:

• claims supported by reasons

• usually supported by evidence, and sometimes supported by warrants.

• A claim is a statement of truth about the world.

• A reason is a statement about why we should believe the claim.

• Evidence is objectively verifiable truths that support a reason (facts, figures, and examples.)

• Warrants are general principles that support the relevance of a reason for supporting a claim.

Example: An Argument

The majority of information systems (IS) developments are
unsuccessful. The larger the development, the more likely it will be unsuccessful. Though the exact numbers are uncertain and depend to some extent on how success is measured,

something like 20 percent to 30 percent of all developments are total failures in which projects are abandoned. Around 30 percent to 60 percent are partial failures in which there are time and cost overruns or other problems. The minority are

those counted as successes (Collins and Bicknell 1997; Corner and Hinton 2002; Georgiadou 2003; Heeks and Bhatnagar 1999 ; Heeks 2002, 2004 ; Iacovou 1999; James1997; Korac-

Boisvert and Kouzmin 1995 ; Standish Group 2001, 2004 ). from Goldfinch (2007)

Presenting the Argument

• State your argument (the `answer` to your question) near the beginning of your review, and then use the review to explain how you got there.

• If you provide an Abstract, your overall argument should be made clear in the Abstract.

`In this article I will argue that digital technologies have not yet led to more open government.`

• It can sometimes be effective to work through an argument eventually reaching an `answer` at the end… but this is less common in academic work. 

Features of a poor argument

Arguments fall apart for a reader when any of the

following happen ...

• The consequences of believing the claim are not apparent. 
• The claim is ambiguous and it is difficult to imagine a clear example.

• The reasons supporting a claim are not credible or appear not relevant. Evidence is doubted because the cited sources present no authority.

• Warrants involve dubious general principles, or ones that do not seem to apply to the claim and its reasons. 

Summaries and Quoting from sources

• Much of your CLR will be summarising the evidence and arguments of your sources.

– Be accurate - get the claim right

– Include sufficient context

– If relevant give an indication of who the author is (academic, professional, journalist/commentator, government official)

• Include definitions of key terms, but only if needed

• Quoting from sources is a useful technique ONLY if ...

• You are commenting on the words used OR

• The words provide a powerful expression from an authority 

Cite and Quote Properly

In text citations:

• Milakovich (2012) claimed that there are five stages of eGovernment: presence, interaction, transaction, transformation and digital governance. 

• Many researchers have defined different stages of eGovernment (e.g., Milakovich, 2012)

Place any quoted text inside inverted commas or use indented text for long quotations. Follow the guidance in the template provided

• Short quotations “are included in the main text, in normal paragraph style, between double quotes and italicized.” 

Using the Literature Well

• How many sources? Around TEN is a good rule of thumb (but using them properly is more important than quantity

• When using tertiary sources (e.g. blogs, news aggregation sites, industry websites) interpret them carefully and show your awareness of the quality of your sources in the way you present them

• Try to synthesise the literature. Find different or competing views in the literature; compare them; comment on their strengths and weaknesses; develop your own interpretation in light of the comparison.

• Engage with key articles; what do they really mean; what are their value? who is the author? what is their perspective?

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