Match of the Day and literature reviews

Students embarking on their first substantive research project often struggle to understand where the literature review ends and the research begins, as do more experienced researchers. It is important to remember that a literature review should always be done before carrying out a piece of research (although it should be ongoing) and it shouldn’t involve a description of the phenomena that you are studying. Rather it is an account of what everyone else has said about that phenomena. I like Gina Wisker’s characterisation of it as a description of a conversation.

One way of thinking about this is compare your research to an edition of Match of the Day. Let’s presume that the subject of your research is a particular football match (it would need to be Match of the Day Live which shows a whole match rather than the highlights programme, because research should always be comprehensive). You are going to look at something particular within this match, say for example, a case study of the off-side rule. If the match itself is the subject of your research, the literature review comprises the comments made by the numerous pundits, Alan Hansen and his ilk, about the match. But instead of watching Match of the Day as you normally would, you should begin by skipping to the end and listening to everything the pundits have to say about the match. Obviously you would need to record it, or Sky+ it, or whatever you do these days. In doing this you will try to identify what the pundits found interesting about the match, what they agreed and disagreed about, and how they thought it related to other matches. Did Alan Hansen focus on the shocking defending (almost inevitably), while Alan Shearer stressed the importance of consistent crossing into the box. You might even wait until the next morning and read all of the accounts of the match in the morning press. Once again you will look for areas of common concern and of debate. This detailed knowledge of what everyone else has said about the match comprises your literature review.

Only when you have accumulated all of that and written it up should you actually move on to the research phase which is to actually watch the match yourself and arrive at your own conclusions. Your literature review will then inform the ideas you develop as you carry out your own research.

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