For 1.7.19

The Critical Literature Review

The professional conversation expects you to survey what others have said, arrange them in a comparative fashion, and position your argument against them. As we saw in Eight Strategies for Using Sources from Yale, you can do so by “drawing battle lines”, “picking a fight,” etc., or here, less forcefully, as “a fundamental tension.”

  • Revision: from top-down to bottom-up

When you read a source, you want to be sure you’ve got it right, and to do that you read systematically, from the top-down: then, you and your readers have a chance to agree on what is being said

When you compare your sources, you will read at a higher level and comparatively, and to do that you’ll need to revise your summaries from the bottom-up: finding the key concepts, methods, or evidence that will become your points of comparison

  • Report Structures are essential to the enterprise, and you will see them correctly used in the example below to distinguish what the authors find in the work of others and what they might think about it
  • Points of Comparison are always at some higher level, some higher level thinking about the concepts, methods, or evidence used to compare things: apples and orange are from the class of vegetables

In the illustration below from class, we scanned each paragraph for these higher-level dimensons and put them above the paragraphs as sub-heads.

On the left, we find excellent summaries based on the main points, including the use of report structures and markers indicating order: this is exactly what you need to do to get to the next step

On the right, you see how we have identified keywords from those paragraphs and placed them above as sub-heads.

Why use the Outline View?

The Outline View supports the use of sub-heads in ways that the use of “body text” does not.

  • On the left, drafting as one speaks, the conversation runs smoothly, and so there is no special need for an outline.
  • On the right, assigning sub-heads based on the main idea, we are invited to read the text as part of a higher-level discussion
  • The Outline View, and as you will associate appropriate styles for each level, supports a clear distinction of this higher level thinking from the conversation that follows it
  • Like the distinction between what one says and what one might think about it supported by report structures, so the use of sub-heads in the Outline View supports a two-level distinction between the conversation and the higher-level thinking governing it
  • The distinguishing feature of academic and professional thinking and writing is such multi-dimensional organization and style where, like a musical score read by a conductor, you are invited to examine things on multiple, sophisticated levels and not, as we hear in the little boy answering the question of how things went during the day — “first I got up, then I had my breakfast, then I went to kindergarten, then ….” As adults and professionals, we distinguish what happened from what is important about it

Now when you review the Critical Literature Review example, you should more clearly see how it is structured on this higher-level thinking, on the concepts and methods that transcend any individual case

What about my opinion?

Having clearly distinguished between what was said and what it might mean, you give your readers an opportunity to examine both in turn, sitting beside you examining the evidence and argument and how you got to your interpretation and so working their way into your position, or perhaps not, and then, sometimes wonderfully, enjoying the opportunity to off you a competing interpretation of what you are both looking at clearly.

Then, seeing the material as you have and of their own free well, their agreement is meaningful and significant — and not something they have to do because you’ve given them no other choice