On this page I will offer a list of things you might do to further your understanding of the Literature Review and prepare a review based on your assigned text for your presentation and term paper.
Wrap your head around the Literature Review
The most difficult thing for many will be to understand the aims and purposes of the Literature Review, and that problem recommends conversation, such as our discussion in class, and careful reading of the assigned texts — most notably “The Craft of Research”. Read the chapters introduced in the syllabus and you’ll know what to do, and if you have trouble understanding that, the best thing to do is write up your questions in the homework so the rest of us might have a chance to help.
The trouble with spelling things out
Although I will offer a list of things you might do, such activities and procedures are basically self-defeating, as the larger problem is your grokking the concepts and practices, which you do by patient study, and exercises as I will offer here are far short of it: as soon as I begin to describe an activity, I end up trying to explain it: if you really wanted to know, you’d look it up yourself and arrive in class with questions: the seminar is just great for anyone who has done some work and has questions, like we saw with the discussion of “plutocracy” and “bias” — these are great places to start, having worked on them you are ready for commentary and perspective, and I trust that discussion helped you move along. So it likely is with the business of the Literature Review.
How this appeared in class the other day
If you think everyone is biased, for example, then everyone has their own opinion, surveying a bunch of self-interested opinions is likely no more interesting than following my own, and if I need the others I’ll cite those who are either on my side to support me and simply trash the rest. This approach is wonderful as it got many of you here, but it is not going to take you far. What you want to be able to deliver is something like the Research Paragraph Analysis, from the Writing Program at Yale University, and where you will see how the author has learned from her sources, has thought through them, and makes her case by organizing her sources carefully. This use of sources is substantive, not decorative (merely supporting your opinion). You want to aim for this.
There are five parts
That’s the claim and what I’ll follow here, and it certainly is the case that we expect each of these elements in a Literature Review, but it is not clear that examining each in turn is the best way to proceed: as noted above,
- Formulate a research question
- Find materials, sources: a rogues gallery of writers
- Analyze those sources
- Evaluating those sources
- Analysis and interpretation
I. Formulate a research question
What is the problem you would like to address?
You’ve been assigned a text, so the first thing to do is identify the research problem they have identified and its range of subordinate issues
From there you do well to create an elaborate mind map of all the things you know and learn about it and so have in front of you a powerful aid to memory
Review Chapters 2-4 of The Craft of Research to figure out what a research question is about, how it is composed of four parts, and how you might go about determining them
All of you have become experts in describing topics, so you have much to learn here about formulating proper research questions
Of particular interest for you here will be learning how to distinguish between the practical problems that concern a business directly and consideration of the conceptual issues which might help you develop a larger understanding and especially as these larger things are what professionals are discussing when they meet
Please assume that in the coming weeks your understanding of the topic and how others have been going about addressing it will change – a lot (we are here to learn!) – so it will be to your advantage to prepare your note-taking to take advantage of it
In your outlining, keep separate sections for drafts and questions, interviews and reflections, notes on what others say and what you might think about it (and them)
Always, always discuss this with your partners at least every second day – the problem here is sufficient complex to require this intensity
II. Find materials, sources: a rogues gallery of writers
Prepare a list of keywords, issues, concepts, names, firms, and places
Before going on the web, you’ll want to assemble an extensive set of search terms drawn your assigned text, as the web works with words and phrases and the communities and contexts using them
Following my advice on Search, because there I’ve described nothing less than a treasure hunt, your role as detective, and a variety of concepts and methods
Keep track of your search and results
You do well not to treat Google Search and the business of data mining like a party given over to chance encounters, but as place of serious business requiring a systematic approach, detailed note-taking, and a fair amount of questioning, analysis, evaluation, and changes in strategy
You want to learn how to search, an art in itself, so Copy every search term into your outline before using it, and below this term indicate the results: if you do this in slow-motion to start, you’ll have a chance to develp and remember tricks which will speed things up soon enough
Your first pass should aim to develop scope
As in the Literature Review you want to develop a survey of different approaches and results, best first to explore this topic generally (such as the annual reviews by the Big 4 consulting firms and academic journals), and as you go along you’ll need to develop appropriate models to put things into perspective.
III. Analyze those sources
Choose a limited number of sources representing significant positions and so work strategically, asking questions of relevance before tearing them apart.
As you assemble this gallery, then start taking them apart, asking questions of scope, depth, trustworthiness, and so on critically – as you will find in the appended “task prompts” in Steps for Better Thinking and in the discussion of thinking critically below.
IV. Evaluating those sources
The fundamental problem is that a zillion little calculations may note add up to much, because what you are after is to build on the collective wisdom of a larger professional community that you cannot possibly know much about when you start.
So, for starters, give yourself time, conversation, and the flexibility you’ll need to see things in ways you cannot possibly now conceive.
To evaluate your sources you’ll likely need to develop an evaluation rubric and where the columns are based on criteria being discussed by relevant professionals plus those you think you might add to it – as the table to the right suggests.
As you learn from your sources you’ll be led to change your criteria, priorities, argument, and so forth, and so you’ll do well to develop a more flexible note-taking system, such as a system of index cards, notes that can be moved about in the Outline View of MS Word, or writing applications like Ulysses or Scrivener that support overviews, subordination of detail, etc.
V. Analysis and interpretation
Analysis and interpretation to be of any interest to others must address their concerns, which you likely get to, first, by “beta-testing” your ideas in conversation with others, but which should also involve your responding to the perspectives, interpretations, and arguments you will find if you look for them.
In reading your papers thus far, sources for the most part have have been reduced to decoration and not placed against each other to the end of sharpening differing perspectives and leading you to choose among them – as you will find here, in the discussion of Eight Strategies for Using Sources.
With the literature review, you want to step outside of your own skin, enter into existing debates, and struggle a bit to find your way through them – precisely as my claim here to have read your papers quickens your interest, so you will want to develop challenging claims based on what others have said or done (and not, somehow, out of air).
In practice, we do all five steps all the time. We write up conclusions when we’ve started, introductions when we’ve finished. We head off in one direction one day and another direction the next. My advice to you is to do a little of each for each week and thereby practice in an integrated fashion so that by the end of your work the sophistication of your understanding will take such form as this example, from Yale, of Research Paragraph Analysis