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Arts & Creative Industries Subject Guide: Study skills

This is the subject guide for the School of Arts & Creative Industries

Study skills

Our Getting Started pages are designed to give you the basics to get you started in using Edinburgh Napier University's library service. You'll find our library Powerpoint presentation here, and an induction handout with all the key addresses. 

Our Study Skills pages - our collection of resources and sources of advice on study skills.

These resources are particularly relevant to Arts & Creative Industries subjects:

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab  -  The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University houses writing resources and instructional material, provided as a free service of the Writing Lab at Purdue. It doesn't specifically cover writing for film, photography or TV, but other arts subjects are covered.
  • University of Toronto: Advice on Academic Writing - essay writing, critical reading, note taking, internet research, plagiarism, style and grammar and much more

Literature reviewing - the overview

A literature review can form a part of any assignment but it is perhaps more commonly associated with work at dissertation and Masters levels. It should represent an overview of a specific question , sketching out the state of that subject and the ongoing debates and research at that point in time. Your literature search will have been wide ranging and systematic in approach and may use sources as wide ranging as books, journal articles, government policies, web pages, theses etc. Your review of the literature will involve critical analysis of the arguments and positions, not just a description of the literature.

Look at the powerpoint slides below for a brief outline of literature reviewing.


In health and  social care the two main types of literature review are the narrative or integrative literature review and the systematic review.

Traditional or Narrative Literature Review

  • Broad in focus. Does not always address a specific question.

  • Not comprehensive in literature included.

  • Does not  always state reasons for inclusion of papers.

  • Not structured in approach to searching for literature or critical appraisal

   Example of a traditional /narrative literature review

Integrative Review

  • Reviews, critiques, and synthesises  literature on a topic in an integrated way.
  • Summarises past theoretical and empirical literature on a topic.
  • Attempts to generate new frameworks and perspectives on that topic.
  • Does not always use explicit systematic approaches in searching or data analysis therefore quicker to complete  (when compared with systematic reviews).
  • Potential for bias and lack of rigour.

Example of an integrative review

Systematic Review

A review of research literature using  a systematic, explicit,  accountable and dcocumented methodology.

The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • Rigor: use of systematic methods to answer set research question

  • Transparency: every step is described; nothing left to reader’s imagination

  • Replicability: a second researcher should arrive at the same conclusions


Systematic reviews are carried out by a team, or at least two, individuals and usually take 12 months or more to undertake.

Students undertaking undergraduate, Masters or PhD dissertations should take a systematic approach to reviewing the literature but they will not be expected to complete a full systematic review following full Cochrane Library methodologies.


Example of a systematic review




A good literature review should:

  • Address a focused, explicit research question.
  • Take a systematic approach to the searching of the literature.
  • Document the search process so that it is replicable  by others  (often a requirement for publication within many academic journals)
  • Demonstrate that a wide range of sources have been searched.
  • Undertake a critical analysis of the retrieved literature, not merely describe what has been read.
  • Justify why particular items of literature are being referred to. They should summarise the current state of research,  perhaps debates that have taken place over a period of time within that topic or arguments for and against a particular aspect of the topic.
  • Relate the question to the larger body of knowledge within which your topic sits, and to put your work into context.
  • Summarise the current state of the research evidence.
  • Identify the gap in the literature that your research question is going to answer.


Common Mistakes

  • Review is too descriptive. No critiquing or critical evaluation of the evidence. No identification of strengths and weaknesses. It becomes an essay, not a review. It does not set the foundation for your own research process.
  • It becomes a dumping ground to write down everything you know about the topic  or is presented as a series of quotes from the papers you have read.
  • Not enough time has been allocated to searching and reviewing the literature. Do your literature reviewing early. It helps inform your final research question, future methodologies and identifies whether there is indeed a "gap" in the current research literature that your queston is going to answer.
  • Literature used is not from scholarly peer reviewed sources.
  • There is no documentation or explanation of how the search was undertaken and the key terms used. No explanation of inclusion/exclusion criteria.
  • Referencing does not follow the School guidelines. It is not consistent in style or presentation.
  • There has been no revision or proof reading. Thinking develops as you write. Go back over what you have written a few days after you have done it. Check grammar and language – give it to someone else to proof read.

Here are 5 top tips towards a stress free  literature review


"Referencing is the way that you can credit all the sources of information and ideas that you have used in any piece of academic work. In producing your assignments you should refer to published works (books, articles in journals, etc.) to increase your breadth of knowledge of the topic, and to help you develop lines of argument within the essay or assignment. It is important to refer to these sources within your written work to make clear that you have researched the subject thoroughly and that your arguments have substance/support"

This extract is taken from the guidelines drawn up by The School of Creative Industries, and you will find more information if you click on the link:

Guidelines for referencing practice and the use of Turnitin®UK

Reference management software

Reference management software is effectively a large online filing cabinet for storing references and matching PDFs.  They will save you a great deal of time and effort when you are writing a paper, dissertation or thesis, but they do require a reasonably good level of IT skills.

Automatically export database search results to your reference manager e.g. from LibrarySearch or journal article databases. As you write your assignment and need to include a reference, pull the reference into your document from the reference manager. It will create the in text citation and the end reference list for you, formatted in the bibliographic style of your choice.

Edinburgh Napier supports two reference managers    - Endnote and Mendeley . See our separate reference management Libguide.


Endnote Desktop   -  Download from the university software download service. Synchronise Desktop & Online versions together for use across multiple devices.

Endnote Online -    web based,  very basic version.

 Endnote  videos 


Mendeley - web based. Has a social networking element, allowing users to find and share references with others. Can set up a personal profile of your own publications.

Mendeley videos