The P&D Literature Review

It is with great pleasure that I can write that earlier this month I submitted the final assignment of my MBA, the dissertation. Pressing the ‘Submit’ button represented not only the completion of my Project & Dissertation, but also the end of my MBA studies – and despite having thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and acquired a wealth of knowledge, it felt wonderful to draw it to a close after 38 months of studying. All that is left now is to wait for my dissertation to be graded, following which I should be able to graduate and formally conclude my MBA in July this year.

Until then, however, I will continue sharing my experience of the P&D; my last post described my plan for the P&D, and I will now explain how I approached the first stage, the literature review.

The Literature Review

I admit that this wasn’t something I was looking forward to – the task of finding and reviewing 50-100 documents seemed quite daunting. However, the book I referred to in my last post provided some useful guidance which made the whole process a lot easier, and resulted in me splitting it into four different stages: Search, Review, Analyse and Write.

1. Search

I started the literature review process by searching for articles using the Warwick University Library website. This contains a full catalogue of books, eBooks, papers, journals, and other documentary sources, which can either be accessed online, or viewed physically from the University Library; despite being a distance-learning student, I was still able to gain access to printed materials using the postal loan service, which proved invaluable on a number of occasions.

One of the initial challenges is figuring out where to start – a search for “strategic alliances” identified 84,683 different articles! However, I quickly found that by bringing together different phrases that were aligned with my research objectives, I was able to view a more focused set of results. I also narrowed down the results using the filters built into the search tool (eg. timeframe = last 10 years, subject area = strategic alliances), and also undertook a manual filtering exercise where I excluded documents that were clearly not relevant based on their title. This didn’t take long – after 6-7 searches I had identified over 70 documents, and found that subsequent searches were increasingly showing the same documents.

Once you have found the various literature sources, it’s important to find a way to store them. There is an ‘add to bag’ option within the library search application, but I didn’t feel this would give me sufficient ability to manage the different sources properly moving forward. As such, I decided to create a spreadsheet, recording the title, year, and any initial thoughts for each source – although this was more time-consuming than just adding to a bag, it was really helpful during the analysis and writing up stages. I also stored copy of each document in Evernote (see here to find out how) – although this was a time-consuming activity, it made writing the dissertation far easier.

Literature Review Table

2. Review

After collating all the documents I reviewed them in varying levels of depth – some I read end-to-end (especially the shorter HBR articles), annotating them using Evernote; others I just skimmed the introduction, conclusion and any sections that appeared particularly relevant. The objective of this stage was to determine the focus of each document, as well as understanding which of them would actually be relevant, useful and applicable to the research. A useful tip that I read was to write one or two sentences for each source that summarises the key message/focus areas; again this was very useful in future stages.

As part of this stage I also recorded which of the research objectives each document was relevant to in my previous spreadsheet, which made writing the literature review much easier as I could just filter the sources by this column.

3. Analyse

The next stage of the literature review was to review the relevant documents identified in the Review stage, capturing specifically relevant comments, conclusions, explanations, theories, models, and other artefacts that can be used to explain, justify, or potentially challenge my research findings. This step became more of an ongoing process that started before I planned my research, and continued right through to writing the literature review; however, this might be a reflection of the methodology that I pursued (Grounded Theory) rather than being appropriate for all dissertations.

Initially I used a table similar to the Review stage where I noted specific comments that I thought might be useful when writing the dissertation. The format I used for this table was:

  • Research Objective – I used a code for each of these as well as for different aspects of the research objective (eg. 1a, 2c, 3d, 3e); this allowed me to filter the results when writing the literature review
  • Source – the name of the original document
  • Insight – what was written about the research objective (could be a quote, the name of a model, or a description of what the author was discussing)
  • Page – where in the source was this written

Annotating in EvernoteAlthough I found this useful, it became very time-consuming, so I decided to use this approach for only the key texts about my research objectives, and then for the rest I reverted to recording annotations and comments on the documents themselves. However, this is not to say that the approach won’t work for others I suspect this depends on personal preferences, time available, and the nature of the research topic being studied.

4. Write

The final stage of the literature review is to actually write it for the dissertation. Given the preparation I had undertaken in previous stages, I found this relatively straightforward to undertake – although that’s not to suggest it was easy. However, there were some key things that helped me whilst writing:

  • I had a number of clearly defined research objectives, and during the previous stages had assigned every source to one or more objectives. When it came to writing a section about that objective, a quick filter on the tables quickly provided a more focused list of content to base my review on.
  • Whilst reviewing the content I highlighted in a specific colour any quotations that I felt were particularly relevant. A quick skim through a source looking for that colour then helped me find quotations that would support the literature review discussion.
  • Separating out the research objectives into categories and subcategories not only helped me to structure the literature review, but also made it much easier to know where to bring in specific sources. For example, three specific papers focussed on knowledge leakage, and so when writing about that topic I could instantly locate previous research and insights.

Although these four stages may appear to be a lot of work, and possibly an arduous approach, I found they allowed me to capture everything in a manner that made writing the literature review relatively straightforward. This approach also helped me become very aware of the different sources and authors, so when I wanted to discuss a point in the literature review, I often knew exactly which document to refer to without needing to review lots of articles.

So that’s the literature review; the next stage of the P&D is typically defining a research methodology and undertaking the research, which I will discuss in my next post.

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15 thoughts on “The P&D Literature Review”

  1. Hi Matt
    Great Blog. What grades did you get for the 7 “core” subjects. Which ones would you say were easier to get higher marks on?

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    1. Hi Bridget. I wouldn’t say any particular modules were easier than others for getting high marks – this depends on your familiarity with the topic, your interest in the topic, how easy you find the content to understand, and how comfortable you are writing the type of response required (eg. case study, analysis of own employment, etc). However, I personally found that I scored higher on the modules which were assessed via an assignment (4 core modules, including 1x 24-hour exam which essentially is writing an assignment), in comparison to those assessed by examination (3 core modules).

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  2. Congratulations on submitting Matt, I’m sure a few beers were consumed that day. I’m just prepping to start my final project and dissertation so your blog will once again prove invaluable reading.

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  3. Hi Matt – Helpful blog. In the same boat with Mark and am starting on my P&D. Were you required to find 70 articles? I haven’t seen that guidance, but have overlooked it. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Hannah.

      There was no predefined requirement on the number of articles to search for – I received varying advice with some people suggesting 30-40, 100, or just to continue searching until my searches were giving the same results. However, when writing the literature review I found that most of it centered around a group of 10 articles and 5-6 authors, with around 30-40 complementary articles providing additional insights specific to certain research themes. This is one of the reasons I recommend the above approach … as it allows you to collate a large number of sources that can be referred to (stages 1 and 2), but then providing in-depth focus on those key articles (stage 3).

      Hope this helps!

      Matt

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      1. HI Matt

        This is very helpful, thank you. Do you happen to know anyone who did either a case study or non-finance based desktop study? I’m trying to find examples of those methodologies to use for my P&D.

        Hannah

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      2. Hi Hannah, mine was similar to a case study (I used the grounded research methodology), but I’m not aware of the methodology used by others. If you’re looking for examples there is a list of sample dissertation titles on my.wbs, and if you’re local to Warwick you could also visit the dissertation library to review some of the dissertations there.

        Matt

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      3. Hi Matt

        Thanks again. I will use grounded research as well. The P&Ds apparently aren’t published on WBS now (if they were) because of confidentiality and plagiarism per WBS. My point to them is even if it was false data or a fake case, I was hoping to see the GR methodology written up – as it will be my first attempt.

        Thanks.

        Hannah

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      4. Hi Hannah. There are some really good books on Grounded Research (in the Warwick University Library) that might be worth a look – I reviewed these and they were really helpful in describing how to go about it. Good luck!

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      5. Thanks again Matt. I’ll check out the book, that’s a great rec. I’ve forwarded your blog to a couple other DL MBAers so hope you can tell us how you’re applying your modules now :)!

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  4. Hi Matt

    I submitted my draft P&D complete on 31 Oct. I\’ve contacted my advisor 3x since to see if she had any comments. No response. Now going on 7 weeks with no response.

    And idea what the max advisors can take to respond? Or what I should do?

    Tx Hannah

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    1. Hi Hannah. I’m not aware of the specific guidelines around response times, but 7 weeks if definitely more than I would consider normal (my supervisor took a maximum of a week to respond to any emails, and generally replied to the same day). I would contact WBS directly and advise them of the situation; they can speak directly with your tutor to find out what is causing the delay.

      Hope this helps,

      Matt

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