Writing The Literature Review

In this article on writing the literature review we’re going to look at what a literature review is we’ll look at some of the language you can use to write your literature review and we’ll look at some example text In the article, I’m going to ask you to do some reading and do some considering of examples so at times I’ll ask you to pause the article to think about some questions or do some reading and to reflect on some of the issues around writing the literature review First, some questions. What is a literature review? What is the purpose of a literature review? and what does one consist of? Stop the article now, write some notes in answer to those questions and reflect on some of the answers as we go through some of the ideas in this article First of all defining a literature review Pause the article and read this definition from Ridley There are three key things I want you to take from this definition One, there’s extensive reference to related research in your field Two, connections are made between those source texts that you draw on And three, you position yourself in relation to those works that you read So, the literature review starts with the reading and the person who needs to evaluate the sources is you How do you do this? One way is to consider the authorship Who authored the research? Are we talking about someone who’s expert? Is it relevant?

Is it academic? Does this person have standing in the field? The other way you can judge the type of sources you’re looking at is where they come from and what we’re looking for are sources which are peer-reviewed academic, expert, trusted, published and written Here’s a question, journal articles are often preferred for literature review in an academic context … Why is this? Think about that The answer’s in front of you. It’s because journal articles are peer reviewed They’re academic, they’re written by experts, they’re reviewed by peers of the people who have written them that’s why they’re preferred So, you’ve started the reading now, there are some larger questions you need to ask yourself as you’re reading and I’m not just talking about who wrote it what they found, what they did, I’m thinking about some of the larger critical questions that you can ask yourself as you read and here are some of them Who are the researchers? What’s their reputation?

Do the findings support the research? Are there any biases evident? And perhaps the biggest one, the biggest question … Is it applicable, is it relevant to your work? The key thing is that the research the critique, starts with the reading So … you’ve started reading now you’ve got to think about how you can group your notes how you can organise your notes there are a number of different ways it depends on your questions You might organise them chronologically, by time You might organise them by the perspectives of different authors the positions taken, the schools of thought the method, how they did the research or, most commonly, you might organise it topically or thematically like an essay So, it’s really important to note that whatever organisation you choose it depends on your research question and the aims of your study. Ultimately, you have to synthesise the ideas and respond to the text So, a tip, create a plan a sectioned plan as a document and, as you read, take notes and import them directly into the plan so that you have a sense of organisation and section as it happens. On to the writing component of the review There are two key elements One is a descriptive or reporting element where you talk about what happened you describe what the author has found what they discussed, what they did It’s an account The second crucial aspect of the literature review is an interpretive or critical element the dialogue where you ask and answer questions of the text you analyse, you interpret, you synthesise you bring together information The second part is super important because if we just stay at the first part the descriptive reporting element we run the risk of having our writing grounded in a shopping list style of writing where we’re saying ‘He noted’, ‘He found’, ‘She did this’, ‘She discovered’ It becomes a list of ideas rather than an interpretation or a treatment of ideas which is what a review is So, how do we do this?

How do we move our writing from the descriptive to the interpretive? Look at this example take 30 seconds to read it and look at what’s going on What you can probably see as suggested by the color we’re using is that the first part of this is descriptive It’s what Evans showed The second part is interpretive because we’re saying here Evans showed this … the method was successful and this was significant because … Let’s look at another example Take 30 seconds to read this again You’ll see a similar thing going on we have a descriptive element Weng et al. out found something and then an interpretive element where Bruce argues why these findings were crucial why they were important So when we’re using this language ‘this was significant’ ‘this was crucial’ we’re flipping the writing we’re moving it from descriptive to interpretation the critical component And there’s language we can use to do this language we can use to highlight importance to interpret, to give us a voice ‘This shows that,’ ‘This is important’ ‘This is vital’ ‘This points to’ And this language is important for two key reasons One, it moves your writing from the descriptive to the interpretive And two, it gives you a stronger writer’s voice it’s you talking, it’s you giving interpretation Another element of the lit review is responding with critique So, let’s look at another example As I give you these parts of the paragraph read through them and look at what’s going on it’s a layered approach to writing The first layer, again, shows us description it’s what Brent found A second layer reveals some critique going on and, again, we have ‘was limited in its application’ this is some sort of deficit critique showing a limitation of Brent’s work Then we have a third element and what you can see here is now we’re offering a solution ‘It may have been more illustrative to do X Y and Z’ And in a final bit to that we have another critical part, but this time it’s a positive critique ‘pivotal’, ‘longitudinal’ ‘multi facility broad scope study’ So we have layers to this paragraph Description Critique Solution Let’s look at some of the language of critiquing We can have deficit critique where we’re pointing out limitations to the research asking questions or pointing out limitations It’s fantastic, once pointing out limitations, if we can then move the writing into offering solutions that’s being critical We also have strengths-based critique where we’re looking at a milestone study or things which are significant or groundbreaking or detailed or useful this is the type of language which we can use Let’s look at another example now pause the article take 30 seconds to a minute to read through this and develop some impressions around this paragraph based upon that topic ‘Resilience at the micro level’ okay having read it can we say that this paragraph is on topic? Is it relevant? It is.

Can we say that it’s critical and interpretive? It isn’t So what we have here is a shopping list of descriptive ideas around the topic Let’s look at the same paragraph again with some key differences take 30 seconds to a minute to look at the paragraph and look at the language and see what’s going on here Let’s have a look at this now, we’ll highlight some of the language which looks at the interpreting and connecting and you getting a voice ‘she suggests that’ ‘this understanding is crucial because’ and we also have some positive critique going on here it can be single words like ‘pivotal’ or it might be things like ‘successful and widely used’ ‘her research makes it clear’ ‘a key implication drawn from this’ What do you see that this language does? It interprets, but it also gives a sense of connectivity between ideas This gives you the narrative thread in your review So, again, what we want is not just description of what researchers found or what researchers argue what we want is review and that is interpreting connecting and critiquing To finish up with I’ll offer you a checklist Have I done these things? Analyse your work, have you interpreted? Have you critiqued along with reporting and describing?

Have you written on topic? Have you used your voice? For more help with academic skills Go to our website or for more articles go to our YouTube blog Thank you