Help! Overwhelmed by research!

This is a short, rather personal post; a bit of a call for help! In my head, thoughts are flying around: researching, compiling bibliographies, literature reviews, not having enough time in the day to read everything properly, wasting time reading the ‘wrong’ things, and feeling swapmed and out-of-touch with the latest state of affairs…. And this is going to (hopefully) be an outlet that gets these thoughts out of my head and onto “paper” so that I can concentrate… Oh, and maybe get some tips from readers while I’m at it!!

What my brain feels like. An art installation on the Moselle river made by Trier Art Academy (Kunstakademie) 2015. 


So, I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping up with the research regarding my areas of ELT. I subscribe to a couple of journals, am active on twitter and I read lots of blogs, so I feel like I’m in touch with big debates and what’s generally going on in the ELT world. 

But now I’m trying to get together some of the ‘best’ literature on the topic of correcting (EAP) students’ writing. I want to summarise the main work and findings in this area. But there is JUST SO MUCH!! I’ve got some key names and some meta-study articles have also been helpful. But I feel like I might be missing out on some other definitive contributions, key strands of work, relevant studies, contaversial issues, etc.  When I search my university’s library databases, the lists are endless of articles on peer review, using technology, to correct or not to correct, learner autonomy, and so on and on and on.

I can’t possibly read everything. I thought about reading through the Works Cited lists and trying to find sources that seem to be cited a lot… but even that would be so much work. 

And I wonder how anyone ever manages to keep up with it all. Whenever I think I’ve “finished” and have a suitable bibliography together, so another blog post alerts me to a new perspective on the discussion, or Google Scholar pops up with a few hundred more published articles… When is enough enough? When can I stop? It’s never going to be  truly finished, is it?!


4 thoughts on “Help! Overwhelmed by research!

  1. HI Clare – The installation pictures my brain as well as yours and this is a post in solidarity! The advice I’d give a postgraduate student engaged in a particular project would be to keep your research questions – your own direction of travel – firmly in mind and skim/scan very selectively with those in mind. This is one reason why that stage of narrowing down RQs is so important – but of course getting to that point might involve wide reading without such a focus. In that case maybe it’s good to keep the need to narrow down in mind as your purpose for reading,if that makes sense? Good advice but I’m not sure I follow it or even agree with it deep down! Sheer amount of research/ info these days (compared with, say, 20 yrs ago) is a reality leading to greater and greater specialisation – that can be unfortunate. The best solution probably lies in meditation or some other way of increasing concentration and cutting out distraction – haven’t found it yet though!

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  2. Just one thought I have on the topic- I struggle with this same issue as I’m working on my thesis. I found that it’s better to start with articles that come from reputable journals in the field. This can get tedious because it means looking up the journal to see who the publisher is and who is on the editorial board. Another thing you can do is check the methodology of the research. How good are the methods? Is the research valid? Do the researchers’ choices make sense? What does the literature review consider, and how is that affecting the methodology?

    Also, keep in mind that research isn’t perfect. You are probably going to miss something OR choose to omit something, and that’s okay. In my own research on motivation and identity, Dörnyei has yet (to my knowledge) to address Bonny Norton’s model of student investment, which is incredibly fascinating to me as both are huge names in TESOL and applied linguistics.

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  3. Take a deep breath Clare – I find that when I’m doing research, I tend to get distracted by new ideas as I read, so I really need to stay focused. What I like to do is log other ideas that intersect with what I’m doing and put them aside for further development LATER (although that invariably becomes NOW all too often because (a) it is more interesting and (b) it’s a great way to avoid the actual writing process).

    So my advice to you is (again), take a deep breath and refocus yourself. I’m willing to bet all the reading you’re doing is NOT actually helping you narrow things down so much as broadening things, and that isn’t helpful for keeping your writing succinct. So log the ideas that intersect your research interests but do not inform them DIRECTLY, and get beyond them.

    Right now I’m working on a paper about the perceptions of TEFL teachers as “cookie cutter” and replaceable as one is just as good as another (we all come from the same mold, after all) and I find myself getting swept up in teacher identity issues, teacher retention and attrition studies, misanthropic perceptions of the Chinese EFL environment … the list is endless. Fascinating but endless. So I have to reign myself in and keep it focused.

    Stop reading; start writing. Get words on the page and then supplement those words with further research if you need to.

    Good luck!

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  4. Dear ELT.
    I live in Tel Aviv Israel, and it is amazing that I can connect with you and share my thoughts. I never stop blessing God for living in such an era when communication has changed everybody’s lives.
    I also thank all the wonderful teachers who share their knowledge, and this is the key to success:

    Follow the recommendations of our sisters and brother teachers.

    Have a beautiful happy Passover everybody.

    Liked by 2 people

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