Many students find it hard to understand how to write a review of the theory without the use of text books, as well as journal articles, as journal articles do not seem to include in depth information about theories. Here we explain the right way to use textbooks to write an essay.

Just to be clear – there is not a total ban on text books – text books are your useful starting point. They will help to give you an overview of the subject and help you to follow up on specific areas of interest (e.g. by getting the some of the journal articles that are cited in the text book).

The point is that text books should not be the main source of your work at degree level – using them does not constitute ‘research’ because text books are basically someone’s selective summary and personal interpretation of other people’s work (theory and research) that they found in journal articles and books. In other words it is second hand information. We are encouraging you to use ‘primary’ sources or first-hand information as far as possible. This is more in-depth, accurate, and in some cases more recent than can be found in text books. This coursework is partly about learning to ‘go beyond the text book’. If you look in your handbook at the marking scheme, you will see how important this is for getting higher grades.

There may be cases where you cannot get the primary/original source, and using the textbook is unavoidable, but where you do this it should be accurately cited in your essay (e.g. Bandura, 1986, cited in … 2007).

A specialist book would be one that is devoted to a fairly narrow topic area e.g. communication at work. Often (but not always) they are ‘edited’ books – a collection of chapters around a common theme, each written by a different author and brought together by an editor(s). Text books called organisational behaviour or HRM or business management etc. that cover a diverse range of issues are general text books (like Huc and Buc) – as I said, useful starting point, and some careful use / citation in your work is ok, but should not be the only source you use, otherwise you will not actually have conducted ‘research’ in the sense that you need to.