Mini Workshop: Literature Review

Literature reviews are complex research papers (or sections of research papers) which require academics to walk a fine line between summary and synthesis. The author of a literature review essentially provides an objectively written synopsis of current research on a specific topic and shows the relationships among relevant studies. Literature reviews often also identify gaps in existing research. Keep in mind that literature reviews are not unconnected summaries of individual works. Rather, think of literature reviews as scholarly narratives; they offer readers descriptions of a research topic’s relevant literature. Therefore, consider how your source material relates. Do any common themes, trends, or debates connect the literature reviewed?  

When you are ready to start your literature review, draft an outline first. Remember: literature reviews demand organization. In your outline, consider how you will organize the relevant literature.  You can incorporate subheaders as an organizational strategy; subheaders, coupled with an effective topic and transition sentences, help direct the focus of both author and reader. Next, consider how you will introduce the research topic of your literature review and how you will construct the objective thesis statement. For your thesis, you may identify the central controlling theme of the research (i.e. what relationship have you inferred between the relevant literature?). As well, your thesis should answer the “so what?” question. In other words: why should your reader care about the research topic and your review? 

What are some effective strategies for writing your literature review? Relevant literature contains a lot of important information, so the overall length and breadth of a review usually depends on a narrow focus of the research topic. Most academic writers wonder: what do I include and what do I exclude in my literature review? I recommended focusing primarily on how the relevant literature addresses your own research question. Focusing on how researchers address specific aspects of your research question can make it easier to summarize and synthesize specific parts of the source material. Thinking about how scholarly literature addresses your research question can also help you exclude unimportant details that may not pertain to your own research project. As the author of a literature review, you must show a direct relationship between source materials and help readers see connections within the literature. 

A final issue writers have with literature reviews is the conclusion. I personally find conclusions the most difficult part of any research paper because it is often difficult to wrap up my discussion in a coherent, concise, and nuanced way. For the conclusion of your literature review, I first recommend restating your thesis and providing at least three main takeaways from the review. You should remind your reader of the research topic and how the relevant literature addresses that topic. Next, you may include what academics call a “forward-thinking moment.” The “forward-thinking moment” effectively makes the case for future research based on any gaps or shortcomings you found in the literature. As a scholar, you can accept your own call for future research and help bridge the gap in a thesis, dissertation, conference paper, or article.  

-Luke I.

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ADJECTIVE CLAUSES

User’s Guide for Dave’s ESL Café Grammar Lessons

Dave Sperling’s website is an established and wonderfully detailed source of information for international writers, and it can also be very useful for academic writers of all kinds. Sometimes we’re unsure of the more obscure grammatical constructions, and other times we may feel pretty confident about our grammar but unsure of the rules that underlie it.

Dave provides a wealth of lessons, but it can be bewildering to locate the ones that answer our specific questions, so this post series is designed to guide you towards answers to some of the issues we’ve noticed with our clients here at the GSWC.

You can find “Grammar Lessons” under the heading “Stuff for Students” on the left-hand column of the Café’s main page.  Selecting that link takes you to http://www.eslcafe.com/grammar.html


POST #1 — ADJECTIVE CLAUSES

Today’s post addresses the first grouping of 13 lessons relating to adjective clauses, which are groups of words that function to modify—in other words, to “describe, identify, make specific”—nouns or noun phrases in a sentence.  An adjective clause starts with a relative pronoun that connects it to the noun phrase and then continues with a verb, often followed by other kinds of words.  So, for instance, in the sentence, “The woman who bakes the cakes for our organization is very friendly,”  the adjective clause is “who bakes the cakes for our organization,” and it starts with the relative pronoun “who,” which describes the noun phrase “The woman.”

All of Dave’s 13 lessons about adjective clauses share valuable advice, and these are a few common kinds of questions they can answer:

  • Why is a sentence like “A man who he was wearing a green suit spoke to us” incorrect? See Lessons #2 and #4 for the problem of having two pronouns instead of one.
  • Why can I shorten “The woman who is talking to Janet is her sister” to “The woman talking to Janet is her sister” but I can’t revise “People who are lonely come to this club” to “People lonely come to this club”?   See Lesson #3 for rules about omitting a relative pronoun and verb.
  • How do I choose between “whom” and “who” and between “that” and “which”?  See Lesson #5.
  • Can I really use “whose” to refer to a thing, not a person?  See Lesson #6.
  • How do I choose between “where” and “when” for the relative pronoun?  See Lesson #7.
  • When should I use commas with adjective clauses?  See Lessons #8 and #9 for a comparison of restrictive with nonrestrictive clauses.
  • Why is “Jack is a person who is in my class who I like a lot” unclear and what are my options for revision? See Lesson #10 for how to clarify a long clause.

As you work on revising your writing for grammatical correctness, you may begin to notice the questions that arise most often for you.  By noticing what these are and learning where to find answers, you can begin to understand and correct your own personal pattern of errors, thus taking a big step towards writing more fluently. 

You should keep in mind that although it is very useful to gain clarity about the complicated rules of English grammar, it’s best to keep grammatical revision for the end of your writing process, after you have fully addressed issues of content, organization, and development.  What you say and how you say it create the core value of a piece of writing, and the main point of grammatical correctness is to allow readers to easily access this value.

For assistance with all kinds of revision, do consider coming in to visit with our friendly tutors.  Visit us in in person in the Basement of the Admin building, online at http://www.depts.ttu.edu/gradschool/gswc.php, or give us a call at 806.742.2476, ext. 1. 

Writing Group Facilitator Spotlight: David and Scott

05_01_17 GSWG Facilitators David Scott

This week, we’re spotlighting David Young and Scott Morris, two Ph.D. candidates in English who facilitate our Graduate Student Writing Groups. These writing groups meet for three hours each week in the Graduate Center. During their meetings, participants check in on their writing goals and write independently.

What made you decide to join/facilitate a Graduate Student Writing Group?

David:  Even though I lead a writing group, I consider myself more of a member. I have the same writing struggles that most have.  I figured that a writing group setting could mutually benefit everyone who participates.

Scott: Before I wanted to lead a group, I was just excited about the idea of there being a group. And, since I already wanted to be in a group that would hold me accountable for my writing, it made sense to agree to lead it because I thought that my experience with the writing process might help other people, too.

What has been the most valuable part of the writing group for you?

David:  I’ve become protective of my own writing time, which I think is the most beneficial lesson.  When life and other professional responsibilities come up, we can easily move our own work to the bottom of our to-do list.  Setting aside dedicated writing time (even if it’s only a few hours per week) helps to keep yourself accountable for your own writing goals.  Protecting this time from other things that come up has helped me ensure that I consistently meet deadlines as well as the writing goals that I’ve set for myself.

Scott: One of the things that has been most helpful is remembering that other people are going through similar issues that I am. We all struggle with the long-haul nature of dissertations and theses: research, drafting, coordinating with chairs, revising, editing. Though this can look different for different disciplines, it was helpful for me to be in a room with other people who were doing what I was doing and having support to celebrate the successes and encourage me through the difficulties.

If someone is unsure whether they’d like to join a writing group, what advice would you give them?

David :  Join.  The writing groups are flexible enough to accommodate a variety of writing needs.  You’ll also have an opportunity to connect with other professionals across campus whom you might not have met otherwise.  We connect once a week and help each other meet the writing goals that we’ve set together.

Scott: If you feel like you would be motivated by the camaraderie and the weekly accountability, then do it. If you feel that your best motivation would be one-on-one support with another writer, then I recommend setting up regular writing consultations with the Graduate Student Writing Center.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell graduate students at Texas Tech about writing groups in general or these writing groups specifically?

David:  Writing groups allow people to bond over mutual need to write.  For some, having set time every week to write is beneficial.  For others, the environment created by people working on projects is motivating.  Regardless, come join us in a writing group to see how we can help.

Scott: We’re really friendly and we’re here to help you get your stuff done, and done well! I hope you’ll join in.

If a student is interested in learning more or joining a writing group, who should they contact?

David:  For all things in life, ask Dr. Messuri (kristin.messuri@ttu.edu).

Scott: David or I are the point of contact for specific groups and are both happy to answer questions as we can.

Participation in Graduate Student Writing Groups is done by application at the beginning of each semester. To join a group during Summer 2017, please apply at https://goo.gl/forms/kV6EHSYo5FrihTsm1 . Applications are due Friday, May 26 at 5:00 PM.