Three weeks ago, I identified a need for a change of direction. So that I might be able to start to draw from readings and write with the literature review in mind, it was necessary for me to learn more about the critical writing process that would be involved. I was having difficulty when faced with a relevant book and not knowing how to approach the task. Keep in mind that my PhD programme does not have formal courses.

Wallace and Wray (2011) was to be the answer to my need for guidance, and a completion of the reading has affirmed my thought. This book is about critical reading, self-critical writing, and how it is incorporated into the literature review, papers, or presentations. It became apparent that the skill of critical reading allows one to become a self-critical writer, conscious of ensuring that reviews and other personal writings are well developed. The research question developed for my early proposal will serve well as a general guide to selecting literature for review. More specific review questions will guide my reading and writing. This begins with critical synopsis questions for first readings of the literature. When more depth is required, knowing that it will form part of the review in the thesis, critical analysis questions provide more depth.

Not all articles or books will receive the same level of attention, but Wallace and Wray (2011) encourage use of their template questions in the early stage to develop skills through their self-professed “structure approach” (p. viii). A complementary text is Hart (1998). It appears to provide depth in its approach to leading readers through an analysis of literature:

It is about reviewing a research literature. It introduces and provides examples of a range of techniques that can be used to analyse ideas, find relationships between different ideas and understand the nature and use of argument in research. What you can expect, therefore, is explanation, discussion and examples on how to analyse other people’s ideas, those ideas that constitute the body of knowledge on the topic of your research. (p. 1)

I will return to Hart (1998) in the future, but I now feel ready to apply the skills from Wallace and Wray (2011) with critical synopses of several subject related readings.

As I prepare to commence further reading, I am cognisant of the need to read in my subject areas and about research methodologies. While there are books on my shelf, ones I have read from the library, and others on my recommended reading list, now is the time to develop maps of the books and ideas. To begin, I am creating a list under subject headings and will develop this in the immediate future.

I would be interested in knowing, in your studies, what resources have you used to develop your critical reading and writing skills?


Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. London: SAGE.

Wallace, M., & Wray, A. (2011). Critical reading and writing for postgraduates (2nd ed.). London: SAGE.


  1. i got sent a few scribblings by Colin Lanksheare and Michele Knowbel by my supervisor

    I enjoy their humour
    Principle 0 was about the balance between infoglut and infoguilt
    Principle 1 was writing as much as reading
    Principle 2 was about being thorough and judicious and conceding (back to principle 0) I can never read it all.

    And then nearer the end of my journey is Kamler and Thomson chapter on getting this recalcitrant octopus called the literature review into a glass jar!

    Great first post Tony. Wishing you well with your readings

  2. Ben

    Great discussion books for the literature review. I haven’t read Wallace and Wray so I’ll be checking that out soon. I do like the Hart book though, and the Ridley one is also good, although very different. I use the Ridley book as more of a quick reference to dip in and out of, whereas I think the Hart book is more detailed, but you need to take a bit more time to read the sections thoroughly.

    I just discovered your blog from twitter and I really like it, keep up the good work

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