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Errors of Judgement

  1. Literature Review – Overview
  2. Part One – Literature Survey
  3. Literature Survey
  4. Efficient Ways Of Searching The Literature
  5. Where to Hunt
  6. Other Useful Info
  7. Citations And Notes
  8. Errors Of Judgment
  9. Planning Checklist

Two sins authors may commit when citing published sources are those of (a)
overloading their review of the literature and (b) failing to keep complete,
accurate bibliographic information, and then attempting to fill in missing information
by guess.

Overloading a Literature Review

When a student’s plan for a project includes a chapter dedicated to a survey
of the professional literature, some students – perhaps many – hate to leave
out any item that they unearthed during their search. They feel it a shame to
omit any reference that took them hours to locate and digest. They also believe
that the more citations, the better. The longer their list of resources, the
greater the chance that readers will credit them with being a thorough, painstaking
scholar.

But such an approach may well give quite the opposite impression. Mindlessly
including everything even remotely related to the research topic is apt to produce
an ill-organized, puzzling conglomeration whose contribution to the project
is difficult to imagine. If your supervising committee members are astute and
careful in their assessment of your work, they will regard an overloaded review
as evidence of incompetence.

You can avoid this error if you specify precisely what your review is intended
to accomplish and then assiduously apply that intention as you select what to
include and what to exclude. For example, if the purpose of the review is to
locate your study within a relevant domain of literature, then you are obligated
to (a) clearly define the nature of that domain by describing the criteria you
use for determining what sorts of studies belong within that body of work and
(b) show how your study meets those criteria – that is, explain how your work
relates to the other theories and empirical investigations that you have found
in the specified domain. Items from the literature that fail to meet your standards
should be left out. Consequently, readers of your finished product should never
be puzzled about the function that any of your literature references perform
in your study.

Filling in by Guess

Accurately recording bibliographic information is not always a simple task
when you are obliged to survey scores of books and periodicals while pressured
by time and competing responsibilities. Thus, you may either neglect to record
the source of a quotation or piece of information, or you may fail to include
all elements of a source – the author’s initials, the year of publication, the
location of the publishing company, or the page numbers for a chapter in a book
of collected works. Thus, when preparing the final version of your bibliography,
you can find yourself scurrying to the Internet or the campus library to retrieve
the missing information. Your problem is compounded if the book you need has
been checked out by another of the library’s clients or if the volume originally
had been furnished to you by another university via the interlibrary-loan service.
Under these conditions, students sometimes feel tempted to create the missing
data by guess. They estimate what the author’s initials or the chapter page
numbers might have been. They may rationalize this behavior by reasoning that
"Nobody’s going to use my references to find the book" and "No
one will discover what I’ve done, and it’s insignificant anyway."

There are at least two difficulties with thus yielding to temptation. First,
the essence of research and scholarship is to be as truthful as possible. You
expect the authors of the books and periodicals you read to be honest and as
accurate as they know how. Therefore, as a scholar, you bear that same responsibility.
Other people may, indeed, use your bibliography in their own search for resources,
so they suffer whenever your citations are inaccurate.
Second, you may get caught at falsifying information. Some members of your faculty
advisory committee are likely to be well acquainted with the body of literature
from which you have drawn material included in your project. So when they review
your list of references, they may spot items containing false information. These
items are usually viewed as the result of carelessness, like typos and misspellings,
and you will be asked to correct them. But readers may also suspect that you
manufactured the erroneous material, and this makes them wonder about the accuracy
of the entire thesis or dissertation. As a British colleague of ours warns his
students: "The thirteenth stroke of the clock casts doubt not only on itself,
but on the other twelve strokes as well." In sum, if your project is to
make a proper contribution to the world of scholarship, it’s worth your time
and energy to be as correct as possible in identifying the sources of material
derived from your survey of the literature.

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