The benefits of using Non-Traditional Literature for your literature reviews
When planning to write your literature review, you would usually be prepared to engage with academic sources, such as journal articles and monographs. But have you considered looking beyond academic sources to find other types of relevant work in your field? In this article, we explain how to look for and engage with non-traditional forms of literature for your review.
Non-traditional literature defined
‘Non-traditional literature’ refers to sources that are not written with a primarily academic audience in mind nor with specifically academic or research aims. These forms can include ‘literature’ in a more literal sense, such as contemporary fiction and poetry, non-fiction texts written for general audiences, magazines, blogs and websites. Non-traditional literature can also include sources that would not be conventionally considered (written) literature at all, including artwork, social media, podcasts, even visual media such as television, film and video games, and other cultural forms.
The benefits of using non-traditional literature for your research
a. It can be more up-to-date and ‘on the pulse’
As you know, the peer review process can be lengthy and arduous. So, news articles and blog posts are often the first places to report on new phenomena and findings. Moreover, general non-fiction can often be among the first platforms to provide in-depth publications on a given topic to public audiences. As such, by including them in your research, you ensure that your literature review is up-to-date and considers the most recent material or debates on your relevant subject, even if they are not strictly academic.
Good to know: Academia itself is also beginning to recognise the usefulness of blogs, as demonstrated by the increasing number of blogs run by university departments, academic associations and individual researchers.
b. It is more accessible
Texts written for general audiences – such as contemporary fiction and blogs – all tend to be created/written in much clearer, straightforward language, meaning that they are far more accessible and easier to understand. This can be helpful to you in a number of ways.
- They can aid your understanding on topics that you may be less confident with.
- Since our writing styles are influenced by what we read, engaging with simpler, less convoluted or jargon-filled texts can help you develop your own writing style into a clearer, more distinct one.
Good to know: Universities are increasingly urging researchers to build and increase their research impact beyond academia. Using non-traditional sources in your research can help to make your work more influential and accessible to audiences and communities beyond the academy. (Read more in this article about how to make your writing more accessible: Writing about complex scientific concepts in simple, accessible language)
c. It is original
At its heart, all successful research comprises an original contribution to knowledge. By looking beyond purely academic texts, you can bring a fresh perspective to your chosen field. Literature reviews require you to consider how your work is significantly different from earlier contributions to the field. In drawing upon non-traditional secondary material, you can ensure that your work encompasses an original departure from the more conventional studies and research that came before.
Engaging (Working) with non-traditional literature
You can engage with non-traditional literature in much the same way that you use material produced within academia. For example…
You could ask yourself how a particular podcast episode contributes to new or evolving perceptions of a subject or a field.
You might think about how a video game presents commentary on a debate that is central to your research.
You could consider how certain social media or online news discourses have altered our understandings of key issues – a facet that may have, to date, been largely neglected in your subject.
You can effectively cite these sources in the same way that you do with academic sources.
Using non-traditional literature: A point of caution
When engaging with non-traditional literature though, be sure to consider what is lost in sidestepping the peer review process, as much as you consider what is gained. If the peer review process is in place to ensure quality control and academic rigour, then would a source’s reliability potentially be compromised if it has not undergone this process?
We recommend: Before you commit to using a particular source, it can be helpful to research whether it has been used, and consequently met with praise or criticism from academics within your field, and consider their opinions and, if any, biases on the matter.
Remember, as much as literature reviews serve the purpose of demonstrating the reviewer’s understanding of and engagement with the subject, at least to that same extent they need to fulfil the function of helping readers to stay up to date with the latest developments in a particular field of academia. Looking beyond academia for relevant, up-to-date content, debates and discourse can enrich and evolve your research in a multitude of ways.
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