3.8 Using a reference management tool
During your research, it is important that you keep track of the articles and papers that you read as part of your literature review. You should also keep a record of any legislation or case law you research. You may wish to use a reference management tool (also known as ‘bibliographic management software’) to manage your reference list. There are many such tools available, both basic and advanced. When undertaking a legal research project you will need to choose a reference management tool that works with OSCOLA (the Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities). More information on OSCOLA can be found at.
This section has shown that one of the important features of the literature review is that it helps in contextualising your research. In the early stages of the research, it helps you learn about your chosen topic area, and it defines existing work in the topic and associated areas. In the later stages, it allows you to put your results into the broader context of your field of study.
To make best use of the time available to you, you will need to take a systematic approach to searching the literature; by following citation threads, forwards and backwards, it is possible to build up an overall picture of the current research quickly. When presenting your review, it is important for you to take a critical approach to your readings, and use an appropriate set of references to support the points you are making in your research.
Evaluation of the literature that you have found is very important for a successful research project. It is through critical analysis of the literature that you support your own research, and place it in overall context alongside the work of others. In doing this evaluation you must be aware of the issues of plagiarism. Remember that there is no perfect choice for your initial selection or articles, books or other resources. You are looking for a range of resources that give a good outline of the issues in the topic you have chosen to research; they should indicate some possible ways of approaching your research, and your research question.
To round-off this section on the literature review stage of the research project, the following audio involves a discussion between two of The Open University’s law academics on how to undertake a literature review, and its purpose. Drawing upon both personal experience and good academic practice, the discussion gives further context to some of the ideas and issues outlined in this section.