Slicing the Donut: Writing a level 1 heading of the literature review

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.

Donut_01_LitReview

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.

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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

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Chapter 5: Interpretation of the Findings

Goal of the Interpretation of the Findings section:
Situating Your Results in Context of What is Already Known 

Up until now, your role in dissertation writing has been to describe, explain, frame, and analyze what others have done. While your critical analysis was imperative in chapter 2 you never shared your personal opinion. In Chapter 4 you objectively presented the results of your study with no comment on what the results may mean. However, in this section of chapter 5, you get to comment directly about the results of your study. The Interpretation of the Findings section is a critical section—and in my opinion—the most fun to write. Very few people read dissertations from cover to cover, but this is a section that will likely be read more than any other.

Writing the Interpretations of the Findings,

Remember the gaps you worked to carefully to frame back in chapter 2?  Now its time to situate your study results in with the current literature. What insight does your study bring? How does your study confirm, disconfirm, or extend the knowledge of what’s in the literature?

Preparing to write Interpretations of the Findings.

  • Make a list of the major findings of the study; per research question (or data source depending on how you want to discuss the findings) from chapter 4
  • Review the gaps you described in chapter 2

Continue reading

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!

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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:

Continue reading

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!

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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.

Continue reading

Writing the Implications Section: Explaining How Your Study Contributes to Positive Social Change

Before writing the implications section of chapter 5, I suggest you go back and read your significance section from chapter 1. [Learn more about what should be in a significance section.] When you were proposing your study, what potential did you think the data may provide? Now that you have your data, has your perspective changed? You should touch on these themes in the implications section. It is also a good time to review your study alignment. Step back, remember the problem you set out to address. The problem aligned to the purpose, which led to your research questions then methodology. It is in the implication section that you finally share what your study means for society. You finally get to answer the question, “Who Cares?” in relation to your study results. This really is the fun part!

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As should be your habit by now, go to the dissertation checklist. Scroll down to chapter 5 and find the Implications heading. Now, write a topic sentence for this section that aligns with what is required. Here is an example of what that might look like.

Continue reading

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.

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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

Lit Review skills require 1 sentence for methods so you get to the analyze results and their importance.

Analyzing not just summarizing research articles

Quality of Evidence

An important thinking and writing skill you must gain as a doctoral student is being able communicate the “quality of evidence” of the studies you cite. Too often, doctoral students want to spend a full paragraph on explaining the methods when really, what matters is the evaluation and analysis of the study. We expect our students to be able to interpret study results, explain why some studies weigh heavier in their findings than other studies, then discuss the impact various studies have on the research theme being explored in your analysis. This is called the “Quality of Evidence.”

In talking with our program director, Dr. Shepard, she shared with me that students should be able to address ALL of the methods in a clause introducing the study, and the rest of the text is focused on the analysis, and addressing the quality of evidence of that article. The clause will be some variation on this formula:

 In this (methodology) study + methods = findings were…

Here are some examples:

In this phenomenological study, interviews were conducted with 12 teachers and 4 administrators, along with two focus groups with 6 teachers each. Findings indicated that…

In this qualitative single case study, two one-hour interviews were conducted with seven teachers along with a review of multiple artifacts of… Findings indicated that…

In this multiple case study of five teachers in three high schools, it was found that…

Lit Review skills require 1 sentence for methods so you get to the analyze results and their importance.

Essentially, you want to make sure you’re not writing large summaries of methodology, but instead exerting your energy on the interpreting of the findings and how it related to your own theme and other studies you have found. If you write more than 2 sentences explaining the methods, it is most likely too much!

Analyzing, Comparing, Contrasting, and Evaluating Research Findings

However, when analyzing, comparing, contrasting, and evaluating research results, not all studies are equal. You must consider the “power” that the participant sample paired with the methods have, before making over-reaching statements of comparison or analysis.  The purpose of having you summarize the methods in one sentence is to help you focus on the quality of evidence the study has. For example, which of the two studies do you believe has a higher quality of evidence?

  1. A case study of 5 teachers who were interviewed at a single school
  2. A mixed methods study where the researcher gathered data from 450 teachers across the USA using a validated/reliable survey, and followed up with interviews of 12 teachers

How do you handle this if the first study had results that align with the research you are proposing to do for your dissertation? The mixed methods study on the other hand had results that were contradictory to the case study results. You must be careful not to place emphasis on the study whose data isn’t as powerful, just because you like the results better! Your analysis must be fair, and any comparisons you make must not ignore this quality of evidence. Your referencing the studies must be truthful and represent the data accurately.

Apply these ideas to your own writing. Have you been guilty of writing long summaries of study methods? Have you considered the methods and number of study participants when comparing and analyzing studies? Would love to hear your stories.