Library Research Guide – Research

Library Research Guide – Research

On this page:

The literature review

The Framework

The literature and artifact review comprises three stages, as set out in the diagram below. Note that this stages are iterative and you will move back and forth between them.

The three stages are:

  • Compiling the literature
  • Making sense of the literature
  • Maintaining awareness of the literature
Compiling the Literature

Compiling the literature is an iterative process, particularly as you refine your research question. You begin by defining your research question (which will change), identifying your field, the types of your literature you need to look at and the sources where you will find them, searching for the literature and then recording the literature you’ve found. Keeping a search log, along with a record of your search strategies will help you keep track of what you’ve done.

Keeping a search log

Keeping a search log will help you keep track of your searches, as you will use different search phrases and search in different places. It’s straightforward, as this example shows:

Literature Types

You will encounter four different types of literature, as set out opposite, with examples of each type.

Keep a record of what you find for the next stage, Making Sense of the Literature.

Making Sense of the Literature

Here is where you make sense of what you have found. Again, it is an iterative process as you will reread as you come across interesting concepts.


Remember that you are reading with a purpose. Make notes as you read (see Coding below) and this will help you with your analysis and write-up. You may feel overwhelmed with the amount of reading you need to, so here are a couple of techniques to help you.

Reading a book

Adapted from ‘How to read a book a week’ by Peter Bregman, (Harvard Business Review, February 2016).

Read the author’s bio and see if you can anything about her online such as an interview, which will give you some idea about her. Then read the title, subtitle, blurb and the table of contents. Read the introduction and the conclusion. Read/skim each chapter and then read the table of contents again. You want to understand the main argument, not necessarily the detail. Code as you read.

Reading a journal article

Adapted from Andrew Abbott, Digital Paper: A manual for research and writing with library and internet material (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2014).

Read the abstract five to six times. Scan for the summary and read the conclusion or discussion section. Scan a second time for anything that is missing.


Coding is simply a methodical way of taking notes as you read. It helps you organise your thoughts, particularly when you have a large amount of material, and helps you when it comes to analysing the literature and writing your review. In essence, as you make notes, you organise them into categories (‘codes’). These can include:

  • Keywords or concepts from your research question
  • Methods used
  • Materials or techniques used
  • Concepts that arise from your reading
  • Summaries of arguments
  • Quotations that you encounter
  • Demographic information
  • Your own responses to what you are reading

As you code, you can record it in a few different ways: index cards, a commonplace book (example 1 and example 2), or in a table or spreadsheet (this is known as the matrix method – click on the links for templates).

Using these codes, you can analyse the literature and write your review.


Your literature review is not an annotated bibliography as your aim here is to assess the literature critically and work out where your research interests and art practice sit within the broader arts landscape. As you read and code, you’ll be analysing and you’ll continue to analyse as you write. Rereading your codes and the notes you have made will help your analysis. If you have kept your notes on index cards, spread them out on a table and move them around to identify connections, similarities and contrasts. If you use an Excel spreadsheet, you can use the sort and filter functions to aid your analysis. Mindmapping techniques can also be very useful here.

Writing the literature review

When you write your literature review, you can structure it in different ways. Davies and Beaumont of the University of Melbourne (see Further Help below) list three different ways:

  1. Difference of approach. In this structure, you compare the different approaches taken by various critics, artists and theorists to your topic.
  2. From distant to closely related. In this structure, one critic may touch upon your topic briefly, whilst another will consider it in more depth.
  3. Chronologically. In this structure, you consider how critics have looked at a topic over time.

In each of these structures, you will seek to identify trends or themes about your research topic. You will also seek to describe how these trends or themes fit (or not) with your approach to the topic.

Maintaining Awareness of the Literature

We now come to the final stage – maintaining awareness of the literature (also known as current awareness). As your literature review is undertaken at the beginning of your research, you may find that you will need to update it at the end of your research. Maintaining awareness in-between will help you with this and it can be done in several ways.

Instead of searching for information, let the information come to you. This will become increasingly important as you go on in your career. So how do you get the information to come to you?

Professional associations

Start with relevant professional associations and organisations – think NAVA and ArtsHub but also arts festivals, galleries, etc. When you join a professional association, you will receive newsletters and emails. You may even be able to receive these without a membership. Sign up for e-newsletters from other organisations.

Journal alerts (TOCs in diagram below)

Journals and magazines send out journal alerts and newsletters to subscribers but also interested individuals. These will include tables of content so you can see if there’s anything of interest. Even when you have to access the journal via a database such as JSTOR, you can receive these emails.

Email lists

There are often official and unofficial email lists that you can join on topics of interest – networking will help you discover these.

Google alerts

If you do a search on Google News or Google Videos, scroll to the end of the page and you will find an option to sign up for an alert service. Thereafter, Google will send you a daily email if anything on that topic is published in the news.

RSS Feeds

RSS stand for Real Simple Syndication and it provides a way of getting information sent from websites to you. Lifewire has a good article explaining what it is and how set it up.

Social media

Most organisations have a social media presence and this is a great way to get information sent to you. If an organisation uses several social media platforms, check which one has the most activity and follow that – otherwise, choose the one you feel comfortable with. Bear in mind that some content such as videos and podcasts will not be duplicated across platforms.

Further help

For a more detailed approach to the literature review, the University of Melbourne’s Gibson Eulan Library has produced a helpsheet. Bear in mind though that this has been written for business students.

Methods & methodologies

Ontology, Epistemology, etc.

Tom Fryer has an excellent guide called A short guide to ontology and epistemology: why everyone should be a critical realist

Whilst geared towards the physical sciences, Kevin O’Gorman has provided some advice in Top 10 Hints For Understanding Your Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology.

Methodologies vs Methods

Pat Thomson has written an excellent blog post on the difference between methodologies vs methods.

James Scotland also has a very good paper which considers the relationship between ontology, epistemology, methodology and methods in different research paradigms.

Guide to methods

Edith Cowan University has an excellent guide to research methods for the creative arts – just remember to scroll down if you don’t see anything.

Resources for methods

The following resources are dedicated to methods and methodologies.


All of these books are available in the School’s library (in the high demand section).

  • Method meets art : arts-based research practice / Patricia Leavy
  • The practice of theory : poststructuralism, cultural politics, and art history / Keith Moxey
  • Visual methodologies : an introduction to the interpretation of visual materials / Gillian Rose
  • Visualizing research : a guide to the research process in art and design / Carole Gray and Julian Malins

Forum: Qualitative Social Research

Peer-reviewed multi-lingual online-journal for qualitative research

The Qualitative Review

Peer-reviewed, online monthly journal devoted to writing and discussion of and about qualitative, critical, action, and collaborative inquiry and research

Social Research Update

Published quarterly by the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey


Action Research and Action Learning

Australian website with resources for action research

The exegesis

Resources for the Exegesis

Here are some useful resources to help you with your exegesis.

Additional resources

The School has several books in the library on research and practice-led research.

  • Art practice as research : inquiry in visual arts / Graeme Sullivan
  • Arts based research / Thomas E. Barone and Elliot W. Eisner
  • Material inventions : Applying creative arts research / Estelle Barrett and Barabra Bolt
  • The pleasure of research / Henk Slager
  • Practice as research : approaches to creative arts enquiry / Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt
  • The research process / Gary Bouma and Susan Carland

Library Research Guide

This Guide will help you locate information for your assignments, provide some assistance in writing your assignments, and provide links to useful online resources and tools. There is also a section on practice-led research for third-year and Honours students.

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