In order to be scholarly in your work, you must begin by ensuring you know what relevant ideas and evidence are available in the subject area for your particular project. To do this, you must carry out a literature search. You can find guidance about how to do this and where to start looking from your lecturers, in handouts, and from the following two websites:
A literature search can be carried out quickly via modern electronic databases. Typing relevant key words will draw up a large range of sources. The secret of good literature searching is to ensure that all dimensions of the topic are identified and included in the search. As a practical guide, literature searches should look for the most up to date journal articles and texts, and use the reference list and bibliographies of these recent texts to guide the next stages of the search. Academic, student support and library staff can help you with this process – so always ask.
Once the territory of the literature has been identified, the next task is to select and read the texts that are considered to be accurate, relevant and useful to your specific topic. However, there are degrees of accuracy, relevance and usefulness. Of course the literature must focus on the subject/topic under study, but to be scholarly, we also need to evaluate the literature sources in other important ways. One of the most important of our concerns should be to establish the accuracy or credibility of the source. Find out:
We can never be content to read just one set of ideas and views. We must ensure we identify and understand a range of available views and that we assess the merits of all the differing perspectives. Given the huge range of work produced even by professional academics, the crucial question for the scholar is how to assess the different levels of accuracy and credibility in these works before we adopt them into our own. We are required to actively assess their strengths and weaknesses before we use them. We sometimes refer to this process of assessment or evaluation of the quality or level of evidence as a 'critique' of the literature.
You can assess the merits of the ideas and arguments by comparing and contrasting the range of views expressed by different authors in the different articles and texts. Views that are supported by a number of authors are more convincing than those supported by none. Importantly, views supported by the results of sound research are more credible than those that are the result of poor research or largely opinion and anecdote with little systematic evidence. Always try to evaluate the ideas using these criteria. By incorporating this critique of the literature sources into our own work, we can demonstrate the authority of our arguments and evidence to convince the reader.