In past blog posts, I’ve talked about the MEAL plan, and the importance of using evidence (the e from MEAL) from empirical research; However, in literature reviews there are specific skills related to presenting that evidence that you need to add to your writing tool belt. These include writing sentences that show rather than tell, and writing densely cited sentences to show the larger landscape of a topic.
Show Versus Tell
In courses, you likely cited studies very generally to help you make a point. However, when you write about studies in the background section of your prospectus or within the literature review, you should avoid generalized references that tell about studies and instead show the evidence by sharing details about the study and specific results. Therefore, the following phrases should not be used in a literature review.
- Researchers have found….
- Research states….
In a previous post I shared this formula:
In this (methodology) study + data collection methods/participants = results.
Here are some ways this formula can be used.
Telling: Researchers found that boys were more likely to fail geometry than were girls (Smith & Wesson, 2015).
Allow Data to Show (Better): In a quantitative study of urban high school sophomores, Smith and Wesson (2015) found that girls (n = 135) were nearly twice as likely as boys (n = 110) to fail geometry (p < .05). Continue reading
The literature review is where students spend most of the “proposal lives” working. In previous posts, I’ve shared with you how a literature review is like hosting a dinner party, how to define and declare the gap, how to use scholarly argument, how to write sticky sentences, and choosing articles for a literature review. In this post, I’d like to extend my post on developing an APA level 1 outline to help you organize your proposal writing. Let’s talk about how you get started in organizing, note taking, and finally writing your first level 1 heading of your literature review.
In one of my all-time-favorite WU Writing center blog posts, Tim talks about how to “prove the presence of an absence” by using an analogy of a donut and donut hole. I’d like to operationalize the analogy even more by expanding on his idea and showing you how the level headings within your literature review fit together to establish the gap and therefore the justification for your study.
The way to show what isn’t known (the gap/donut hole) is to share what is. That’s your job in the literature review. You must “talk around the donut hole.” It’s a big job, but you can do it, if you take it one “bite” at a time.
So, once you and your chair have determined the level 1 headings (general topics) you need to address in your literature review, visualize each of those heading as a different slice of your donut. (Anyone getting hungry yet? Sugar rush? ) Continue reading
Most dissertation students at one point or another become overwhelmed during research process. For many this happens during the review of the literature. There are so many articles to identify, obtain, and then organize. Therefore, it is important to have a system that builds your confidence that the articles you find you’ll be able to locate when it comes time to read and write. May I suggest a system that starts with the development of what I call the APA level heading outline?
APA Level Heading Outline
When organizing to write your dissertation proposal, I recommend you use an outline. The outline should align with the appropriate Walden checklist for your methodology and the headings in the outline should be formatted as they are in the dissertation template; level 1 headings (centered, bold, and title case) and level two headings when necessary (left justified, bold and title case). All of the headings are predetermined for you except for the ones in the literature review. Work with your chair to determine your level 1 literature review headings. The headings should provide a full description of the topics covered by your research questions. Here is the template version I give my mentees to individualize for their own study.
Using the outline provides several benefits. First, it helps you to know all the elements that required for the final product. If you consider each level 1 heading as its own mini-paper, the whole process seems less daunting. You can also use the outline as a task-list, and “check” headings off as you write them. I keep an outline for each of my mentees and I change the text color of the completed heading and insert a comment bubble with the date I approved that heading. This provides us with a bird’s-eye-view of what’s been done, and what still needs to be done. Last, I suggest the outline be used to help you tag articles for where in the paper you’re likely to need it.
For example, if a study has the research question:
How effective is technology-enhanced feedback given to doctoral students during the dissertation writing process?
the following APA level 1 headings might be used to organize the Literature review.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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: 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.
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 http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR18/fram1.pdf
…and decided to tag it with the big picture tags
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
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.
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.
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.
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.