Writing the literature review chapter

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hello everyone my name is Cecile Barden host and welcome to this presentation on writing a literature review chapter in a masters or a PhD dissertation so the presentation is about all the things that go into writing a literature review chapter it’s one of the most difficult chapters in a thesis to write it’s very complex and there are multiple things that you as the author are trying to do and that the reader expects to see so one of the reasons why it’s so difficult is because you have to write with the authority and sophistication of an experienced scholar it’s a cognitively difficult chapter to write you need to pull together theoretical perspectives conceptual debates and previous research perspectives and and one of the most difficult things is that you have to write through others voices so using the texts in order to construct an argument of your own and somehow through doing that you still have to make it your own so you really are writing through the other texts using the other texts and then pulling together an argument of your own that’s what makes it so complex the purpose of a literature review in a dissertation is to establish the scholarly significance of the research problem by showing previous research in this area so for a PhD the scope of this will be much larger whereas for our masters it’s it would you would need to provide less evidence of the scholarly significance you would need to provide an overview of the entire research field your research overview will be much more specific the other thing you’re doing particularly with the PhD is that you’re providing a conceptual prep framework or some kind of perspective for this thesis now not all disciplines require conceptual frameworks but at some point you you will be discussing what approach you using or what framework you’re using and it’s usually in the literature review that this happened so what are you required to do in a literature review you require to be able to see the broader debates in the field so to be able to see what the big discussion issues are you’re required to be able to see what the connections are between papers and between authors and which author has generated a range of discussions and how authors connect or disagree with each other you’re also required to show how researchers connected either theoretically or by you know from a particular perspective or perhaps a particular way of looking at that research or using data in a particular way so you’re required to show the connections in the field you’re also what you require to do is to understand the gaps in the research and particularly the gap that your research is going to fall and and generally you need to what they’re looking for is that you have an awareness of the field so one of the important things to think about in writing a literature review is that it’s a process and it’s an iterative process and by this I mean it’s it’s something that you you you come back to over and over again so you begin by reading and but you might come back to that article at a later stage and reread it so you go through this process of initial thoughts from reading writing going back to the articles getting different thoughts maybe finding new discoveries writing some more so it’s this process that involves you know revisiting papers and readings and the other thing to remember because the the literature review chapters often one of the most overwhelming chapters the other thing to remember is that you begin the process as a novice where you may not know the literature that well you may not know the field that well because you might not have done that much reading in it but as you begin to read you begin to understand the field and to begin to see what the debates are so the more you move through the process the more confidence you’ll develop about the literature and then of course towards the end of your PhD or your masters you will be much more confidence about the the field that you’re reading in so just keep that in mind when you begin to despair and think about the fact that it is a process and you will develop the expertise as you go along there are three components to writing literature reviews for me these three components are our importance first of all you can’t write a literature review without reading the second component is understanding how to write the literature review what goes into it and then the third component is citations which we often see only in terms of conventions but actually citations play a very important role in helping you construct not only your argument but your identity as a scholar now I’ve developed notes on each of these three because I’m not going to be able to go through them in detail in this presentation but you can find those notes at my blog in the addresses on the slide so just quickly to do an overview of reading and the only way you find out what’s happening in the literature is through reading the more you read the more familiar you you’re going to become with the literature you know over at the beginning as I’ve said it will seem overwhelming but as you read you’ll begin to sees the same authors appearing the same points being made an argument against a particular point and you will be able to work out what the field what’s happening in the field the other point I wanted to make on reading was really about reading source documents if you can go back to the original document especially for a PhD not so much as a masters but with a PhD if if you see a source document being quoted quite in the literature then go back to the original document I mean not only is it good in terms of seeing what was written originally but you’ll find that your confidence will increase if you have read the source documents and you’re not just relying on other people’s interpretations now in the notes on reading I have quite a bit of information on how to read critically how to develop notes how to relate your notes to the research that you you’re conducting and the kinds of questions you can think of as you reading an article so hopefully those will help you in terms of reading the next component of the literature review that I think is important for you to understand is the genre so how is this chapter written and what goes into it and the most important thing I think is to realize that the literature review chapter is made up of a number of arguments and these are all sub games in your overall thesis argument or dissertation argument but in this chapter what you what you trying to claim is the need for this research the knowledge gap in the literature so the scholarly need for this research your assessments of the research that has been already conducted in the field and your conceptual framework or perspective whatever it is that you’re using to frame your research and you might also make an argument about other things so for example you know in engineering you might be making an argument about the materials you using or in science you might be making an argument about the models that you’re drawing on so these are the arguments that go into this chapter so how the chapter works is very similar to other chapters and that you would have the introduction a main body and then a conclusion and in the introduction you set up the purpose why is this chapter important in your thesis how have you gone about you know finding the sources for this chapter and then you might give the reader some signposting this is what I’ll be discussing for moving into other sections the main body of the literature review is really open to all sorts of ways of organizing it and it can depend on your discipline but it can also just depend on the research and the field so you may find that using a chronological approach is a very useful one so for example if you tracking a concept or a theory and you want to see how it’s changed over time then then showing how authors have used that approach over time would be a chronological approach so you could say in the 1960s this is what made up this particular concept but then it’s it’s been critiqued and it’s changed over time so that’s a chronological approach that means looking at the literature as it was written over time you may also find a thematic approach useful that’s where you break up the literature into key themes and discuss those themes you might find a contextual way of organizing the literature is more relevant so what is the literature in Canada what is the literature in the UK in South Africa and the type of publication I mean most literature reviews are not organized around this but you might find that you have a sub section in there where you talk about key books for example or key Arthur authors or you might talk about significant journals in the field and so that’s just an idea for you in terms of organizing this you could talk about particular authors and their perspectives you could group and organize the body in terms of particular authors key thinkers you could look at the evolution of a concept and how it’s changed in the literature you could look at key debates so you could set up your your chapter according to the debates and then the counter debates and but really what you’re doing in the body of of those chapters you’re evaluating the literature and you into fine gaps and then in the conclusion you relate back to the purpose that you stated in the introduction you summarize the key points and you related to your current research one of the key problems students often come across in writing this chapter is what to put in and what to leave out especially these days this there’s so much literature out there that is accessible it’s very difficult to you know decide what needs to what what should stay in and what can be left out so here are some ideas of what you can do so you can think about the topicality you could um you could define your subjects according to a particular topic you could refine that topic in order to limit the literature so if it’s a field where there’s a lot of literature so for example social justice then you might want to refine her to social justice in education or social justice in adult education or social justice in adult education in Newfoundland so you can see that each time you refining is and it will help you to establish what you should read and what you can leave out the comprehensiveness you can also decide how comprehensively want to make this review you know will you read literature from all over the world or will you confine it to a particular context so just make a decision on how comprehensive you want to review to be the braids is it going to be within this discipline within a sub discipline or will you be reading cross disciplinary and relevance this is something else you might want to decide is what constitutes relevance for you in this literature review and how does it relate to your purpose so you can actually set up when you’re deciding to start your search you can say tap these teria and you can say well I’m only going to look at papers that deal with university students or perhaps mature university students or perhaps graduate students so then you’re working out what’s relevant currency how far back do you want to go do you want to set over the last 10 years 15 years 20 years or will you only look at the literature within the past five years particularly if it’s an area where there is a lot of literature exclusions do you have any exclusions that can limits and define your search Authority you can look at particular authorities in the field you can organize your literature review around these authorities and then availability and this is something that’s fairly outdated now its availability so limiting your search to what is available one of the things that I found is so difficult for students to get the head around is what’s you know what the whole chapter means and what it looks like so I’m using this analogy from messy 1996 just to try and help you see what the literature review does and this to me is a very useful analogy she says she has a number of different analogies in the article but this is one that I found useful she says it’s like trying to follow an animal or trying to follow animal tracks in unfamiliar territory so if you’re in a terrain and you have a whole bunch of animal tracks ahead of you how do you find out which ones to follow that’s what a literature review is or is like you begin reading and you may follow a particular track and find that it’s a false track or you may read older material and find that that material is is not helpful anymore but in a way you need to do that in order to find your track so you know whether you go down false checks or not you still learning the terrain so the literature review then is trying to find which track you need to follow in this terrain amongst multiple other tracks so one of the suggestions I have or some of the suggestions I have is to get help if you’re struggling with your literature review chapter you don’t have to struggle on your own and one of the things you can do is look for published literature review papers so papers in your field that are literature reviews and they may not be literature reviews exactly on your particular topic but there may be you know on the broader field or on aspects of the field and those are very useful papers to help you see what is happening in the field because somebody else then has made sense of it for you so find published literature review papers in your area and the other thing you can do is to get someone to explain the literature to you either a classmate you know another students or even a professor or a lecturer you can set up an appointment and just say to them look I really don’t understand how this person fits in or where this links to that can you explain to me and you know people who’ve been in the field for a while will generally be able to tell you very quickly how things work and they might be able to draw a diagram for you to show you how all the components fit together and another tip that this is what I do if particularly if I’m reading in a new area is to order all the papers and books chronologically and then read from the earliest one to the most current one if you do that you can see how things unfold over time in the papers so you’ll be able to see where one person makes an arguments and then somebody argues against that and and where that person then refines that argument in a later paper so if you’re really struggling with your field or order your papers chronologically and read them in that order it’ll give you a good sense of how things have happened and the other tip I would give you is to take a literature review paper a published literature review paper and deconstruct it so have a look how the introduction was written and how did they organize the body how how have they pulled together their conclusions and then you can use that as a model if it’s something that you feel can help you and the other thing that is really helpful is to draw a diagram to draw almost like an organic Ram of how the authors and papers all fit together so if there’s a key thinker what what or which authors have drawn on that key thinker how has their changing how is their thinking added to or changed what the key was they had to say and you know get a big piece of paper and just scribble your drawing down it doesn’t have to be needs it’s really just about thinking mapping the literature or the field and then the last tip that I have for you is to to do big-picture reading as well as detailed reading and by that I mean when you’re doing the big picture reading you doing a search according to your criteria and maybe what you’re doing is collecting the abstracts and then reading across all the abstracts and making the initial decisions and saying yes this is relevant no this isn’t relevant in reading across the abstracts like that you get the broad sense of the field and then you can identify which articles you will need to read in detail and in those articles you can read specifically and in depth you know do an in-depth reading of it okay to quickly move on to citations and citations play a very important role in in a well in any chapter particularly the literature review chapter because one of the things your readers are trying to see is how much you have read so citations really play an important role in this chapter but here are a number of different ways for using citations so I mean one of the most common ways is to acknowledge the idea or thinking from somebody else so that’s the property intellectual property rights but the other thing you’re doing with citations is you acknowledging the history of thinking in this area so you’re not saying my research begins at this point with a tabula rasa behind me what you’re saying is I know that lots of other people have thought about this and this is how they have thought about it but what my research is doing is thinking about it slightly differently and citations also help your reader to find your sources and this is something that I think writers often don’t think about but dissertation readers examiner’s will look at your citations because they are interested in them so you know paying attention to your citations is important for that one of the key reasons for citing is to provide evidence evidence comes in the form of secondary published sources in academic contexts so when you citing you’re providing evidence for whatever arguments you’re making or claims you’re making and the other thing that happens with citations is that anyone use sides is making a statements about who you think is important or significant so if I’m citing this person versus that person are making a choice which my reader can then see and about who I think is significant citations also show your discourse community so it shows your knowledge of their discourse community and it also shows your affiliations so for example if as if i sat free a in education then then my reader knows immediately that I’m coming from a particular perspective because I’ve cited that author and then the last point reason why you would use citations is that you draw on authorities to help you substantiate your claims so if I cite a big name in the field after making a particular claim then what I’m saying is that this Authority has also said that and I’m agreeing with that so citations matter they matter because your reader is interpreting who you are citing as well as what you are citing so who how and who you cite contributes to your overall argument and just to give you a very brief example so if you’re using a single author use a key Authority as I’ve said then you making a statements about that Authority what perspective that Authority has and and how you are aligning yourself with that Authority and the other way citations matter I mean this is just to give you an example is that if you group multiple authors together after a particular point so you make a point and then you cite multiple authors then what you’re doing is not only collecting bits of the literature together so you showing patterns but you’re also saying this is a significant point because so many people have agreed with the way I think so that’s just an example of how citing single authors or citing multiple authors says a lot more than just acknowledging where the ideas come from so citations show how much you have read and who you’ve read okay how you’ve evaluated source texts and decided which ones were important how well you understand the content and the issues and the source texts where you stand in relation to those source texts and how well you can read the discourse and respond to the discourse community and what that means is do you understand the field can you understand the debates in the field can you see what counts as and what is valuable in that discourse community so it’s very important to evaluate your sources because that’s part of what you’re trying to do in this literature review so I mean the the kind of basic evaluation of sources is who is it written by is it someone who’s an authority in the field or is it someone who’s fairly obscure is this current current literature has it been published recently or is it a fairly old text has it been published in a reputable journal or by reputable book publisher is a peer reviewed and is it relevant to the topic that I’m dealing with now obviously if you have a text that doesn’t fit any of those criteria you can still make the argument for using texts outside of these evaluations but you would need to then make the argument and provide evidence so perhaps you’ve got a text that’s very old you could make the argument that this is classic text and that most of the subsequent debates are based on this early text and you think it’s worthwhile to go back to the original text so literature reviews are cognitively complex as I’ve seen before and because you I mean you begin by writing summaries of relevant sources but right throughout the process you you’re going through this thing of selecting what’s important and leaving art so right from the beginning even though you’re writing summaries you’re making decisions about the material and you’re doing things like comparing contrasting working out the validity of sources you’re analyzing the sources so you’re looking for patterns you’re synthesizing so you’re looking for connections and you’re evaluating where you’re making judgments based on meaning so it’s it’s a very complex chapter and one of the ways to work through the complexity is to use blooms technology economy and if you haven’t come across this before it’s a really useful little technique and it’s not meant to be used rigidly and I’m using an older version of blooms but it’s still helpful even if you want to use the newer version so I’m really using this as a heuristic to allow you to understand how how what the writing looks like in a literature review and how you can adapt your writing to achieve what you need to achieve so Bloom’s taxonomy is a hierarchy of thinking skills and the hierarchy is dependent on the thinking skill that comes before that so for example you can’t understand or comprehend something if you don’t have knowledge and you can’t apply it if you don’t have knowledge and comprehension so you can’t analyze unless you have knowledge comprehension and are able to apply the knowledge so it works like that across the taxonomy so how does this apply to literature reviews well we knew writing and you summarize that’s when it’s at the knowledge stage if you can summarize and then apply that to your research then you’re moving from knowledge through comprehension to application if you can identify patterns and themes across the source articles across your summaries that you’ve you’ve written then what you’re doing is you’re moving into analysis because now what you’re doing is you’re pulling the literature apart and you’re grouping them into themes contexts however you’ve decided to organize that literature and at the same time you’re assessing the validity and the relevance of these source articles then once you’ve got your themes you’ve ordered your themes your summaries into themes then what you need to do is to take those themes and put them back together again but with with more insight so this is where you’re constructing your argument where you saying okay this is what’s in the literature but now what’s important about this what can I say about this why do I need to put these themes in so you’re making an argument around the themes in the literature and then you’re relating those patterns that you found in the literature to your own research so then you’re moving into higher-order thinking skills like synthesis and and then the last step in the thinking skills hierarchy is evaluation and that’s where you’re looking back over the whole process and you’re saying okay how can I show that my argument is sound how can I provide evidence for what I’ve said what you know what I’ve said in this argument that I’ve made and you might do there through including counter arguments or showing the nuances in in the literature so not everything is cut and dried and and it’s not an argument where one person is posing something against another person you might find that they say yes but so there are new answers in the literature so when you move into that higher-order thinking skills you really evaluating the whole process so I hope you can see that using Bloom’s taxonomy it gives you some insights on how to move from knowledge the knowledge label which is a lower order thinking skill where you would write summaries or source articles to to the higher-order thinking skills so the very last slide here is really about some quick strategies that you can use one of the most common things that students will say is that it’s just so overwhelming the literature review chapter is just too overwhelming so if at any point you feel like it’s overwhelming you need to break it down into the smallest but you can find so perhaps you begin with two articles you read the two articles you summarize them and you compare them then you add another article summarize compare and if you if you know how to do use free writing then write notes but also do a free write so that you have your notes which you would cite in the in the chapter and then you’re free routes which are really about your thinking around these articles and just remember that it is a process the more that you read just naturally you will begin to align yourself with some authors and not with others so just through reading you will find yourself sorting the literature and saying these are the authors that are found you know resonate with me and these are don’t so that’s one way of to begin of beginning to organizing this the other strategy I would suggest is to set a time limit for reading because reading can be a procrastination activity as well where we spend enormous amounts of time reading and very little time writing so I would suggest that you spend time thinking about your searching strategies so you set up the criteria for the searching then you move into actually searching for literature searching downloading papers or collecting books and articles from the library and you set a time limit to that and then you move into writing and so you know you don’t have to be rigid about this but if you say it’s a time limit then you saying to yourself I’m going to start writing at this point I can still read at a later point but at this point I’m going to start writing then once you’ve written you can always go back to your search add new literature but you will at least have something written down that you can work with this last slide has all the references that I’ve used in this slide show they are there are a lot of sources out there now to help you write the literature review and even just a google search on the internet will come up with all sorts of ways to help you write the literature review there plenty of YouTube videos and in the notes that I’ve developed I’ve added some YouTube videos that I think are very worthwhile so there’s a lot of help out there you don’t have to struggle on your own I hope you found this useful please go and visit my blog for the extra information and you can let me know there if there’s anything else you need to know or if you have any other comments thanks bye

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