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Convincing thesis students that doing the literature review is important

  1. Oct 16, 2017 #1
    hi all,

    I am a researcher at university and I have several bechelor and master thesis students every year. Very often, I struggle to convince students to carry out a good literature review and from their thesis, I do not get anything I have not seen, because they only read the first google results or the documentation I provided for the lectures. Therefore, most of the times, I read thesis where I really know everything, or thesis that are just an elaboration of my suggestions. Do you have a similar problem? How can I convince students that literature review is probably the most important part of their activity?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2017 #2
    I often end up sitting down with students at the Google Scholar page and teaching them how to use the search engine with different search terms to find interesting papers. Then I show them a few examples of looking up the references from new and important papers we've discovered. Then I show them how to find new references among the papers that cite the most important papers we've found. Finally, I show them how to find other papers by the more important authors in the field.

    This generation has a strong component of "what are you gonna do if I don't" with regard to following instructions and exhortations. I make it clear that I will refuse to sign their needed paperwork or issue their desired grade. Not many students play chicken with me.

    But no one else has really taught many students the necessary skills. You need to teach, and then you need to show them both the carrot and the stick.
  4. Oct 17, 2017 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Don't accept their thesis without a proper literature review?
  5. Oct 17, 2017 #4
    Great idea.

    Further, most of the processes that produce theses also have a "proposal" or "research plan" stage. One need not usually wait for the thesis, one can usually refuse to approve the proposal without a proper literature review.
  6. Oct 17, 2017 #5
    That's right! But none really tought me how to perform the literature review or that is a necessary activity. When I don't know anything, I make a google research and I'm sure I'll get an answer there. Instead many students believe their doubt is unique! So, I think it is also a problem of mindset. Anyway, I'll prepare a kind of tutorial on using google search for the literature review.

    It is hard to not accept a thesis especially when they have carried out a decent data analysis.
  7. Oct 17, 2017 #6
    Google Scholar (https://scholar.google.com/ ) is much much better than normal Google (https://www.google.com/ ). The signal to noise is frustratingly low in normal Google, but with some experience on search terms, can be very high in Google Scholar.
  8. Oct 17, 2017 #7
    I meant google scholar. I made a mistake. In the past, I tried with Scopus, but with no success. Hopefully, with Scholar will be better. I'm glad, I'm not the only with this problem ;)
  9. Oct 17, 2017 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    Well, either you think the literature is important or you don't. Are you the primary advisor?
  10. Oct 18, 2017 #9
    Yes, I do believe that is important and for this reason I'm concerned with that, but they usually read a book or some papers I wrote and that's it.
  11. Oct 18, 2017 #10
    I don't think there is one way to do a proper literature review, it depends too much on the topic and the time which the student has available. It is a very difficult thing and most students will not learn it within one year. Actually I think it is mostly a technical problem. If we could do full text search of research papers, students would be find stuff much faster.
  12. Oct 19, 2017 #11
    I totally agree with you for the first part of the answer. For the bolded one, I tried in the past to give papers, I did not have the time to read, hoping that it would be helpful for me as well. Unfortunately, most of the students, found the paper too hard and not necessary for the accomplishment. It was successful just once where I said to a student to reproduce a simulation in the exact way.
  13. Oct 19, 2017 #12


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    I think this is the most critical idea. The literature search should precede substantive work, and this forces the appropriate mindset.
  14. Oct 20, 2017 #13
    you're on right, but most of times, supervisors provide the plan of the activities that has to be carried out, that means that someones has done it and that students have a little powet to do something in a different way. Therefore, it is hard to convince many students to do a literature review.
  15. Oct 20, 2017 #14
    I disagree. Even when students have a plan handed to them, they can still do a thorough literature search regarding why the topic at hand is important and reviewing what has been done on the topic already.

    And you can fail to approve their research plan or thesis if they fall short of expectations.
  16. Oct 21, 2017 #15


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    I'll be tacky and recommend that you tell your students something I've already written:


  17. Oct 28, 2017 #16
    My students struggled understanding the titles of many of the published research papers and that put a psychological barrier to pursue further perusal of those papers. I spent time helping them "analyze" or "dissect" titles, and eventually they gained speed in literature review and felt less intimidated pursuing it.
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