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Postgraduate Research Information Skills Modules for coursework

Develop research skills during your postgraduate studies that will continue to benefit you throughout your academic and professional career.

Module 6 : Course assessments

Assessment 1 - Annotated bibliography

Your first assessment is generally an annotated bibliography around a topic introduced in the early weeks of the course.


What an annotated bibliography does is expose you to the breadth of literature available to you, shows you how to find the literature and looks at how you evaluate this literature to support your ideas. An annotated bibliography consists of an alphabetical list of papers with a short descriptive paragraph attached to each one, the annotation.

What is an annotation? How do you do it?

Annotating is writing out the key elements of a paper in a systematic format - an annotation will include:

  • who wrote the paper
  • the aim of the paper - what the paper is about
  • the methods - how they gathered the data used in the paper; how did they undertake the research; what research method or theoretical framework are they using/testing
  • the findings of this research
  • any limitations or bias
  • reflection or discussion about the paper.

Further readings

Assessment 2 - Literature review

The literature review is essentially a bigger version of your annotated bibliography. There are several different types of literature review, however, the main aim of the literature review is the same. A literature review is to show the current research in a field. The purpose of a literature review is to build a knowledge base for your research. The knowledge base will help direct your research, assist you to identify gaps in the literature, and establish the uniqueness of your research.

An important component of most theses is the literature review. A literature review requires systematic, methodical and consistent processes to search for, manage and use the resources you find. This module will provide you with an overview of literature reviews and how to work with information resources in order to create your literature review.

This assessment requires we use the skills we covered in the previous modules of this guide to show how and where we have searched for literature and how the materials retrieved have been evaluated and chosen to be part of the review.

1. Literature search records

The first step in this process is to make a record of your literature searches. We need to see where you searched, what you searched for, how you refined your search and the number of papers returned. An example of how to set up this record is found on the literature strategy sheet available for download in Module 2. We need to see certain criteria for how you searched and where. A basic example would show the following:

  • Search location: database, catalogue
  • Search string
  • Date – for currency
  • Search results
  • Refinements
  • Dates
  • Full text, peer reviewed
  • Discipline
  • Subject area
  • Refined results

Once you have completed your literature searching, you need to show why papers are included in your final review. To do this, set up an inclusion/exclusion set of criteria.

If you are looking at "participation in creative arts for primary school boys", papers will need to be based upon your key terms. However, if you are not finding enough results, you could also include "girls". If you are finding too many results, you can start adding in age or grade ranges to narrow the search.

The same ideas will show why a paper is included or not, e.g., a paper about boys in drama in grade 5 should be in, whereas, papers on formal music programs may not.

2. Literature review criteria

Once you have selected your papers to review, you will need to set up reading criteria to help you match the key themes and elements in each paper, to build your body of knowledge in your topic. When you choose to take on a long-form dissertation, you use the same criteria to help identify the gap you wish to research.

These criteria are malleable, but there is a general set of themes you will need. This set of reading criteria is basically a long-form annotation, with more details recorded. An example would look something like this:

  • Bibliographic details
  • Publication date
  • Country of origin
  • Aims
  • Methods
  • Methodology
  • Theory
  • Number of participants in study
  • Themes – identified
  • Themes – emergent

And so on - by reading to the criteria you will be able to match the elements of the literature and show more clearly how the literature supports your research.

3. Writing the Literature review

Once you have read and reviewed your literature, you can then begin to write up the review. There are many variants in the writing of your review. It is key to bring the themes identified together to show how they link and who is writing about them. It is also key to show how theory is being applied in different environments. Your lecturer will provide further guidelines on how to present the findings of your literature review. Further information on literature reviews can be found on the following link.