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如何准备文献综述和撰写论文

时间:2010-12-15 12:55:06  来源:  作者:

Finding, formulating and exploring your topic.
Different topic creations
Many students have in mind something that they want to work on; others want to work with a particular scholar or research centre. In the first case, students search for a compatible supervisor. In the second, for a topic. Regardless of these preliminary circumstances, the topic is very likely only roughly formulated at this stage. This is usually enough to have your enrolment accepted.

Reading the literature
Once you have a general idea, you could start by talking to your supervisor and other scholars. But, most importantly, you have to think why you would like to work on it, or why anyone would want to do so. Ask yourself, "Why is it important? What is interesting about this? Suppose I solve it, or find it, or pull it all together, what use is it? What is its significance?" Then, with some questions such as these in mind, go and read more about it to see what is there and find out what aspects of it have been exhausted, what neglected, what the main ideas, issues and controversies are in the area. It is regarded as your supervisor's role to direct you to the most fruitful starting point in reading and surveying the literature.

Cycle of literature review
All of this is not a once only activity, but is a cycle you go through again and again. So you read, think, and discuss it with your supervisor and then, as a result, come closer to the formulation of the topic. And then with each cycle of reading, thinking and discussing your topic becomes more specific and focussed. This is not the final formulation and the last time you will focus your topic. But you could probably let go of this round of general exploration and embark on the next stage. Your supervisor by this time should have enough of an idea of your topic to judge whether or not what you propose to do is feasible within the time available and has the potential to meet the required standards for a PhD. To see the full potential of your topic or, to the contrary, see that it is not going to deliver what you wanted, you do need to begin doing your research. This, of course, is why pilot studies are often undertaken.
Making sense of the literature
We do truly wish we could tell you about a reliable or simple way to make sense of the literature. We can say, however, that you need to attend to things at two levels:
• One is establishing a system that will allow you to organise the hard copies of the articles etc., and develop a data base for references, so you have easy access under relevant categories and don't chase the same references repeatedly.
• The other is the more demanding task of understanding and using the literature for your purposes.
Without attending to the first task, you could easily become inefficient and frustrated. However, although it is necessary to have some way of keeping track, don't spend all your energies on perfecting your system. It may be a good idea to attend a course for researchers on handling information. Check whether your university's library or computer centre offers such a course.

The other task ahead of you - of understanding, reviewing and using the literature for your purposes - goes to the heart of your thesis. We consider this in three stages.

Making sense of the literature - first pass
When you first come to an area of research, you are filling in the background in a general way, getting a feel for the whole area, an idea of its scope, starting to appreciate the controversies, to see the high points, and to become more familiar with the major players. You need a starting point. This may come out of previous work you've done. If you're new to the area, your supervisor could suggest fruitful starting points. Or you could pursue some recent review articles to begin.

Too much to handle
At this stage there seems to be masses of literature relevant to your research. Or you may worry that there seems to be hardly anything. As you read, think about and discuss articles and isolate the issues you're more interested in. In this way, you focus your topic more and more. The more you can close in on what your research question actually is, the more you will be able to have a basis for selecting the relevant areas of the literature. This is the only way to bring it down to a manageable size.

Very little there
If initially you can't seem to find much at all on your research area - and you are sure that you've exploited all avenues for searching that the library can present you with - then there are a few possibilities:
• You could be right at the cutting edge of something new and it's not surprising there's little around.
• You could be limiting yourself to too narrow an area and not appreciating that relevant material could be just around the corner in a closely related field.

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