Identifying the Gap: Conclusion Paragraph of Level 1 Heading

What’s the Gap?

There are several jobs of the literature review of your dissertation. The first is to show that there is a need for your study, therefore it is justified. Another important job is to identify what literature has not been done on the topic or in other words, what is still not fully understood.  You need to have read A LOT of research to figure this out. You will not cite everything you read, but ALL of your reading is what helps you to be able to stand up in the end, and declare the gap.

You have a gap if the research related to the level 1 topic heading:

  • has not been studied with a certain population
  • has been studied in some content areas but not “yours”
  • has been primarily studied using a single methodology
  • there is research on two sides of an issue and more research is still needed to help further understanding
  • includes poor quality research (usually research design or implementation)
  • is built on an incorrect assumption
  • consistently uses the same conceptual framework and therefore lacks multiple views of the issues (you will propose an innovative way)

But what if you didn’t find a gap for a certain level 1 heading? That’s fine! In that case you will review the consensus on the topic and how reliable that consensus is.

While you are likely to be discussing the gap and consensus as it comes up in the body paragraphs of the level 1 writing, I am suggesting that you dedicate one full paragraph at the end of each APA level 1 heading of your literature review to stand up on a rock, fist pump in the air, and boldly identify and declare the gap!



Last Paragraph in Each Lit Review APA Level 1 Heading

Let’s talk about the last paragraph of an APA Level 1 Heading in your literature review. This paragraph is not really a summary of what was in the section; rather, it is a well thought out synthesis of the topic and related to your proposed study. Note: This applies only to the literature review, section of chapter 2, not all sections in chapters 1-3.

The purposes of this paragraph may differ slightly depending on what you’ve found in the literature, but may include any or all of the following:

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Be the Glue: Writing Sticky Sentences

Have you ever received feedback on your academic writing that sounds like this?

This paragraph lacks cohesion.
Add more synthesis, please.
This is all summary.
Where is the analysis of these studies?
Why does this matter?

If so, its likely that you need to work on being the glue!


Hopefully you know about the MEAL plan. Walden’s Writing Center has done an outstanding job of providing a model for writing strong academic-toned paragraphs. Here is what MEAL stands for.

M = Main idea = Topic Sentence
E = Evidence = Facts from research studies
A = Analysis = You Be the Glue
L = Lead Out = Your voice summarizing

I find that once students begin to understand the importance of strong topic sentences and lead out sentences, most learn to use them consistently. However learning to do the analysis well is where most students struggle. I have started calling this “the glue” and urge writers to “Be the Glue!” I find myself asking students for more sticky sentences that will pull the citations they are using into a coherent review of the literature.

WU Writing Center stated

Analysis should function as both the “you” (your unique interpretation of evidence) and the “glue” (a clear linkage among pieces of evidence and between evidence and the topic sentence) in every paragraph.

Glue + You = Analysis

Even if you agree with my argument for the importance of having analysis in every paragraph, you probably know how difficult it is to write well. You might be asking yourself, How do I transition from the evidence to analysis? I probably can’t just say “I believe this is important because….” or “This matters because…..” So how do I do it? I’m going to break my answer to this into two parts. First, I will provide tips for how you interpret the evidence and second, tips for linking evidence together. I will conclude with tips on what to avoid when writing these sticky sentences.

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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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 6.15.05 PM

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?

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Using Scholarly Argument in your Literature Review

Literature Review is More Than a Summary of the Research Studies on Your Topic

Think of the literature review as a persuasive argument for why your study needs to be done. However, scholarly arguments are not like the persuasive essays you may have written in the past. Instead, you use facts, found in empirical research to show your reader what is going on in your field and within your topic. Your argument will be stronger based on the quality of the resources, how you organize the facts, and the logic you use to connect facts to your study.


However, there are a number of qualities that scholarly arguments should not include. The first is vocabulary that evokes emotion. While you should be passionate about your study, you are writing an academic, scholarly argument. The facts, not emotion should make the argument. Next, scholarly arguments should not be degree-indicating. Do not use words such as, very, fantastic, amazing etc.. Continue reading

Tagging Part 2

Tagging Part 2: Digitizing Tags for a Reliable Cross-Referencing System

In my Tagging Part 1 post, I define what a tag is, describe why you should consider using tags, and then give examples of how to assign tags to research article you read for your dissertation. In this post, Tagging, Part 2, I will address the number of tags you might assign each article, and then how to use the tags as part of a larger, digital cross-referencing organizational structure.

Tags Part 2

How many tags should I assign to each article?

It depends. For example, you might have found this article…

Fram, S.M. (2013). The constant comparative analysis method outside of grounded theory. The Qualitative Report, 18(1), 1-25. Retrieved

…and decided to tag it with the big picture tags

mych1; mych3

But you might also want to further determine where in those chapters the article may help. Therefore, you could ALSO add APA Heading tags. I might choose

myNoS; myDataAnal

To further narrow the usefulness of the article, you might choose to use the Library Sub-Question Letters as an additional tag.


FYI: LibSubQ-E is “Why is the methodology I’m proposing the best choice to address the problem I’ve identified?” You can learn more about LibSubQ’s in my NoteTaking post.

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Develop Tags that align with dissertation topic.

Introduction to Tagging

Developing a System to Cross-Reference Articles

What is tagging?

Tagging is the term I use for assigning text tags, to literature, articles, and resources, that you may want to cite in your dissertation. Think of tags as keywords YOU assign to an article to help you cross reference it so you remember to use it later. I strongly suggest you do an abstract review in order to gain an overall picture of your topic, and to clearly determine the literature gap. At this phase in the process you’re not reading the article, only the abstract and maybe skimming portions of the article if the abstract is too vague. It is during the abstract review that you should assign tags. Using tags is a way to flag research, so you can group related articles on the same topic together. Tags are at the heart of an effective cross-referencing system.

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Abstract Review–organize and cross-reference your literature

Once you have your dissertation prospectus approved, you’ll be moving into high research gear! It might be daunting to think about all you have to do, but inch-by-inch, its a cinch. In this post, I will describe how you can use an Abstract Review to jump start your research process, by setting up a structured method of identifying and organizing the articles you find, and cross-referencing them to look at in more detail later.

Abstract Review Throughout this post, I will refer to specific slide numbers of my Voice Thread on Organizing your Lit Review, that I talk about in a my note taking blog post.

Early Goal: Use the Abstract Review to identify articles on your topic to prepare for the construction of your dissertation outline.

The graphic below is an overview of the literature research process. You are starting at the star; working to identify and obtain articles. During the Abstract Review, you are trying to accomplish the first three stages. Your job is to work on getting a good feel for what literature is out there regarding the major topics of your dissertation. Read chapter 8 of Dr. Dawidowicz’s book, Literature Reviews Made Easy so you see how you’ll use the information you’re organizing during this phase of the process.

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Power of Google Scholar for PhD Students

If you haven’t yet harnessed the power of Google Scholar, you need to. There are lots of little ways that Google Scholar can help you find what you are looking for, and to help you reach “saturation” of the literature. Walden library suggests you use Google Scholar to supplement your database searches, not replace them!The Power of Google Scholar for PhD Students

#1 Tip: Pay attention to the links under the citation.

Use the “Cite” link to find the APA formatted reference. Always double check it, as it may not be exactly right, but its a good place to start. And you can also import the reference information into various bibliography software programs.



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Choosing Resources for the Literature Review

Listed below are two purposes of the dissertation literature review. The question being addressed here is: How old should the scholarly studies be for the LII/Educational Technology dissertation literature review?

How old are your literature review articles? Dr. Darci at NoABDforme blog talks about how current the empirical studies must be for the dissertation literature review.

1.     Show a research gap for each research question using current research.

  • Current research is to be no more than five years old when the student graduates.
  • Consider setting up alerts in Google Scholar so newly published articles on your topic are sent to you email.
  • When we review the reference list we would expect to find a minimum of 50-75 current research studies – do not include books or dissertation/thesis
  • However, not all of research studies have to be 5 years old or less (keep reading)

2.    Build an argument that there is a gap in the literature and situate it within the best research on that topic.  This will provide the context and a long-range understanding of issue/topic.  These contextual resources are the ones that can be more than five years old. This is where the “mining” you did (looking at who is consistently cited in the studies you’re reading) may be used and cited.

Side Note: you actually DON’T have to show a gap for your dissertation topic. The other option is to show that there is much disagreement in the MOST current literature regarding a clear conclusion on your topic.  This therefore, justifies the need for additional data to further enlighten the subject. Your goal then becomes justifying how your innovative approach to the topic/study is worthy and might shed new light to a complicated problem.

Note Taking for the Literature Review

While it doesn’t matter HOW you organize your reading and note taking, what does matter is that you actually have a method that works for you! I decided to share a VoiceThread introduction to the Walden dissertation proposal process as well tips for the Literature Review. The note taking method I share with you is the one I developed as a doctoral student myself. Its how I do it, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be your method. However, seeing how one individual takes notes will more than likely give you ideas on how to tweak your own system to work for you.

Organize Note Taking for the Literature ReviewI will warn you, this presentation is long, and probably overkill, but I think it will be helpful. If the embedded code doesn’t work, Click on the graphic above to view my presentation titled, “Introduction to the Proposal, Note Taking, and Literature Review.”  And here is the word document Literature Review Note Taking Template that I reference in the Voice Thread. It is on my Google Drive. If you are a mentee of mine, you can get your copy in Bb.

I have also provided a script of the presentation that you can download if you like!  LitReviewNtTaking_Script

The note taking system I used is based on developing Library Research SubQuestions, or LibSubQ’s. In my video, I share how to develop LibSubQ’s for your own research study, show you how to use my note taking sheets to answer those questions, and provide tid-bits of advice on how to save time in the research process. The beauty to this system, is that in the reading of one article, you will most likely be able to find answers several LibSubQ’s. This will also helps you to cite more than one resource per LibSubQ. You’ll be on your way to having strong evidence for each sub-topic from a variety of resources.

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