Literature Review

You have already done a lot of research, you have written an annotated bibliography, and you have created a source map. For this assignment, you will synthesize the information from all of that research into what is called a literature review–or an overview of the conversation.

A literature review (lit review) is a common and important academic genre, in which you review and synthesize available research on the topic. Reviewing the literature is a key step in being able to contribute to the conversation of a particular community. You will very likely use portions of this paper in the next assignment–the researched argument + multimodal.

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Synthesis

Synthesis is an academic word for describing the process of using a lot of different sources together. You combine them, synthesizing their ideas and showing 1) how and where the different sources work together, 2) how and where the different sources work against each other, and 3) ultimately creating a space for you to position your own argument.

STEP ONE: The first step is to identify the clusters/camps:

What are the points of convergence?
Who is talking to each other (via citation)?
What are the topics and subtopics in the conversation?
Who is talking about the same topics and subtopics?
What clusters/camps are forming around the topics and subtopics?
What are the connection points where ideas intersect and/or push against each other?

STEP TWO: The next step is to group together the clusters and identify the big ideas:

Are there smallish clusters that can be joined by a slightly larger idea?
Are some of the ideas emerging as more important than others, by virtue of more citation, more explanation, etc.?
Do you find some of the clusters more compelling than others? Why?

List three or four of the big ideas under which you can group the clusters. Those clusters that you can’t fit in may just not fit in this literature review. Don’t force ideas together, but make sure you are looking for every angle and every point of connection.

STEP THREE: The next step is to organize the ideas.

Is one of the ideas more current and treated more favorably in the most recent literature?
Is there one idea that you prefer?
What are the logical connections between the ideas?
How are the clusters/camps building on each other?

The big ideas will become the subheadings for the literature review. You need to decide what order to put the big ideas in. It’s common to work both chronologically and by importance of the ideas within the context of your particular contribution. You’ll begin with the formation of the conversation and the fundamental concepts and ideas, to innovations and developments of those ideas, and then to the most recent adjustments and tweaks to the arguments. This is because, you are working toward your own argument which needs to be fitted into the most recent and important arguments.

STEP FOUR: What do “They Say” and what are the stakes?

What are the stakes in this conversation? According to the sources in your body of research:

What are the most important issues?
Why does the topic matter?
Who does it matter to?
What does it impact?

These are the stakes of the conversation.

For each big idea, pull two or three quotes out of the research you’ve done on your topic. The quotes should be about important points you need to make sure to include in the literature review. Underneath each quote, explain it in your own words. Make sure that a couple of the quotes get at the stakes of the conversation.

 

STEP FIVE: Write the literature review.

Here is a basic structure for a literature review:

Introduction: +/-3 paragraphs, in which you describe the topic generally, define any key terms, and define and label the clusters/camps that will structure the rest of the literature review.
Section 1 (Needs a subheading that indicates the general subtopic you will discuss): This section should be about the fundamental concepts and the beginning points of the conversation. This section should include the major authors who are nearly always referenced in other articles on the same topic. Call attention to what is at stake in the conversation. In 2+ pages, describe that subtopic, by bringing together the clustered ideas, calling attention to and explaining what kinds of arguments are already being made about that subtopic. You should note the relationships between ideas, authors, clusters/camps as you describe the big idea of that section. Your thesis probably belongs in this section.
Section 2 (Needs a subheading that indicates the general subtopic you will discuss): What’s the next logical idea? What is the big idea that most closely builds our of and develops the big ideas. In about 1 1/2 pages, describe the next subtopic, by bringing together the clustered ideas, calling attention to and explaining what kinds of arguments are already being made about that subtopic. You should note the relationships between ideas, authors, clusters/camps as you describe the big idea of that section.
Section 3 (Needs a subheading that indicates the general subtopic you will discuss): What’s the next logical idea? What is the big idea that most closely builds our of and develops the big ideas. In 1 1/2 pages, describe the next subtopic, by bringing together the clustered ideas, calling attention to and explaining what kinds of arguments are already being made about that subtopic. You should note the relationships between ideas, authors, clusters/camps as you describe the big idea of that section.
Conclusion: In 2-3 paragraphs, draw some general conclusions about the conversation in general, which will allow you to recap the major parts of the argument. The general conclusions should get at why the topic is relevant–the stakes. Point out existing holes in the conversation, gaps in the conversation where more research needs to be done or where a different argument needs to be made.

 

Writing a Thesis for a Literature Review

A literature review needs a thesis, but it won’t be in the form of “I will argue…”. Instead, the thesis of a literature review needs to overview the conversation, calling attention to the major points of convergence, divergence, and clusters. It might follow this template: In reviewing the literature on ____________, I will show that ____________________ viewpoint differs from ________________viewpoint, and that ultimately what is at stake in this conversation is _________________________.

 

Formatting

The literature review needs to be in either MLA or APA format and:

6 pages long,
word-processed,
double-spaced,
using a standard 12-point font (no courier)
with standard margins,
and numbered pages,
with name, date, section number, and instructor at the top of the first page (no title page)

 

Self-Reflection Memo

In preparation for the final draft and in concert with the peer review, you will write a self-reflection, in which you weigh the strengths of your essay as well as places that might still need more work. Every piece of writing can and should be revised. This process of self-reflection helps you take inventory of what is happening in your essay. The process of self-reflection also helps you understand your own writing in a way that will make it easier to write future papers both in and out of this course.

For this paper, please genuinely consider your own paper, taking stock of where it meets the requirements of the assignment and where it can meet those requirements more closely.

The following set of questions are intended to guide but not limit your self analysis and reflection:

What is your paper about? What topic did you choose and why?
Who is the audience for the paper? Think beyond me…
What do you want your audience to learn from your literature review? What is the take away?
Look at the assignment. Are you meeting the requirements of the assignment? How and how not?
What does your paper do really really well? What are you proud of?
Where could your essay use some revision? What do you still need to work on?

I look forward to reading your self-reflection! This is a very important part of the writing process.

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