How Writing a Literature Review is like Hosting a Dinner Party

Writing a literature review is like hosting a dinner party.  Don’t you just love a good analogy?

As a literature review writer, or dinner host, it is your job to invite everyone who has done research to debate on a specific topic around your dinner table. Those researchers who’ve published in the last 5 years have priority seating—but big wigs in the field should also attend.

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As the host, it is your job is to listen to your guests, ask probing questions, encourage academic debate, find holes in each other’s research, and to discuss what is still yet to be studied.

Now, let’s listen in on a dinner party much as I describe above. Close your eyes and listen to the clanking of utensils on dishes. Do you hear the various voices and tones? Do you smell the seared steak and steamed vegetables? Do you feel the warmth of the candlelight centerpiece on your face?

Why don’t you sit at the head of the table and listen in for what you might overhear, hosting such a dinner party.

Really? That’s interesting, because in my study, I used a different methodology with a similar population and found something very different then you just described!

What is your explanation for why your results contradict everything else everyone at this table is telling you?

Wait a minute; on what assumption are you making that claim?

What instrument did you use to collect your data? Was it a validated and reliable instrument? Ha! That might explain why our results don’t align. Your results are bogus! I win!

Yeah, but you did not published your study in a peer-reviewed journal. We can’t be certain that your methodology or analysis is sound, because it wasn’t critiqued by a group of your peers prior to publication.

Honestly? You found what? That’s interesting! Tell me more.

But isn’t it possible that you made an assumption that impacted how you interpreted your results?

Through what conceptual framework lens did you analyze the data? Is there another framework that might shed different light on the results?

Humph, well of course you would interpret your results that way, you come from a constructivist standpoint! But from where I’m sitting, those results can be interpreted very differently!

As the dinner host, interjecting poignant questions throughout the dinner discussion is also critical. So, you clear your throat and speak …

Ok, we’ve got an idea of what qualitative researchers think, who at this table approached the problem with a quantitative approach?

If we categorize results of each of your studies by the ages of the participants, do we notice any patterns?

So, what are the gaps yet to be explored? What still needs to be understood on this topic to help solve the problem? What steps do we need to take?

After the meal is over, each researcher shakes your hand and shares with you what an engaging time he/she had talking with their colleagues on this oh-so-important topic.

Now, how does this analogy help you write a solid literature review?

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