For a long time I have practiced a particular skill in literature review writing, but I couldn’t aptly put an explanation to it whenever I tried. Today, I found the exact skill described so well on The Thesis Whisperer. I must tell you that if you are a graduate student (whether research/ taught), you need to follow that blog right there. It has become my Thesis Bible of sorts.
In explaining how to write a good literature review in your project, the Thesis Whisperer likened one’s approach to choosing a dress from your closet. I’m sure we ladies can resonate with that illustration well. As for guys, uuurm liken it to choosing the kind of girl you’d love to date *cocks eyebrow*. Back to business.
There are different kinds of dresses appropriate to different events right? but the fashionistas usually tell us we can never go wrong with the LBD – Little Black Dress. Thesis Whisperer says your LBD in your literature review refers to ” a simple, but competent run through of the major authors with a thread of an argument running through the whole. The argument should be connected to why you are bothering to do the study.” She however tells you it is up to you if you want to be more daring. I’d liken being daring to wearing Toms on an anglican choir robe – THAT IS DARING!
I know how it is always smacked into our heads to keep our work original, so you get ‘daring to be different’ undertones ringing in your subconscious. Well academic writing is nothing like a graphic design workshop. There are conventions to be upheld in the midst of being ingenous. I suggest exercising your creativity in your chosen research area, topic, method etc.
The literature review is simply where you take a cruise around your research area on what has been done in that particular field. Who has said what? who countered it? where will my own argument be located in this field? I believe that is why T.Whisperer said “the argument should be connected to why you are bothering to do the study”.
My Supervisor during my Masters program also gave me some tips on the literature review that I would like to share with you. He said that in your work (dissertation, thesis etc), there shouldn’t be a particular chapter you simply tag ‘Literature Review’. Hold on a minute, let me land. He said, all through your work, from your first page to the last, you will be reviewing literature. There never comes a time when it’s just you the researcher speaking. You would always have to refer to others, even in your data analysis. I found this suggestion to be very valid in my writing. Through out my analysis of the Dallas panty-bomber’s coverage in major news organisations, I kept referring to arguments I had mentioned in my “so-called literature review chapter”.
I am yet to experience the Literature Review in the Thesis sense of the word, but I suspect the same principle would uphold.
To wrap this up neatly. Here are my tips on writing the literature review:
1. Draw a reading list and categorise them to your taste.
I tend to categorise according to arguments in mono-research area-situations. For instance, at a time I was only interested in the framing theory. Now, I am into like three research areas. Thus, I categorise according to these areas, then sub-divide into arguments. What this does for me is that, when i’m exploring arguments, I can easily find and refer to those who have argued against the previous stand.
2. Start Writing
The first time your are faced with a blank MS-Word Page, you’ll most likely just stare for 5 minutes. So many materials are racing through your brain whose every fibre is laced with intellectual adrenaline; yet, no show for paper. Again I say to you, start writing.
3. Don’t be bothered about getting it right the first time
Even best-selling authors have loads and loads of tear-away drafts. I simply concern myself with putting down the information to the best of my ability, I can always colour the academic lingo later. Actually, the more you write, the smoother your flow.
4. Keep your research title/area in focus
The temptation to veer off course is most prominent when reviewing literature. You will stumble across so many beautiful articles, you just want to squeeze them in. Just yesterday, I was library-shopping for books to take home with me. As soon as I approached this particular gigantic shelve, about 6 titles screamed at me. I reluctantly pulled my eyes to search for what I came for first. I still picked an additional title (I hope it’s relevant to my research, but the title looked it).
Alright, a new assignment just came in on my email, gotta run. Catch you soonish 😉
Photo Credit: Princeton Thesis