Developing an analytical framework

Writing a literature review. Developing
an analytical framework for your literature review. Preparing an academic
piece of writing can be compared to building a house. Before you lay your first brick, you need to know how many rooms it will have, how large they will be and how they will be arranged, so that the space flows seamlessly. Likewise, for your literature review, you need to know how many sections you will have, what ideas you will discuss and how to organise them, so that they lead coherently to the gap you will attempt to fill with your research. You cannot simply start writing without a plan. To create this plan or outline, there are
several options available. Your ideas can be organised using different patterns or schema. There are two main types of schema that we need to distinguish — natural or real-world schema, and artificial or interpretive schema. Real-world schema, where we foreground criteria such as place, time or process, are based on phenomena in the world that we mostly all agree on. That is, we more or less take these ideas for granted. Nobody would argue that 1951 comes before 1965. On the other hand, there are artificial or interpretive schema. For example, classification, generality, compare/contrast
or cause and effect. These are artificial because there is less agreement on what ideas are included. And part of the role of research is to argue about how to classify concepts or the causes of particular phenomena. Natural schema are the organizing principles foregrounded in descriptive writing, whereas artificial schema are foregrounded in analytical writing. Let’s take a look at how this schema can be used to organize texts, starting with place. This paragraph is from a literature review about women’s participation in World War Two. Hit the space bar to pause the video. Here, the writer is comparing and contrasting women in two different places — the United States and the Soviet
Union. This is the overarching principle in this paragraph. As I mentioned in a previous video, the beginnings of sentences — which we call themes — can signal a particular pattern of textual organisation to the reader. A good exercise to develop your own schema is to represent the structure of texts graphically. Here, we have represented the diagram the author of the previous text may have sketched before writing it. We will be showing samples of these types of diagrams throughout the video. Another important natural schema, time, gives a chronological overview of events or the development of ideas. This picture shows a timeline of women in aviation. If an author was interested in writing
about events over time, their diagram might look like a simplified version of this one. This excerpt is from the same thesis as the last text. In this section, the writer is drawing our attention to the development of organisations for women pilots throughout the 20th century. Hit the spacebar now to pause the video. Notice how in the topic sentence the theme – that is the beginning – indicates the overall time period covered. Some of the other sentence themes are also time markers, and more chronological details are given within the sentences. When a chronological framework is used, the writer usually starts with the earliest
events or ideas and works systematically from the earliest to the latest events. Not as frequently, a writer can work backwards from the latest event to the earliest. The amount of detail included depends on how important this chronology is to the research. We can guess the writer had a diagram similar to this one before she started typing. Moving toward official or interpretive schema. One of the most important is classification. Classification is about how we organize
concepts into categories and subcategories. Classification can include research approaches, dimensions of a problem, parts of an issue, topic or aspects of a topic and so on. For instance, popular music can be organised into different types — reggae, trans, punk etc. A more refined classification would
put similar types together. For example, reggae and hip-hop might go into one category. Salsa and Bossa nova into another one, and so on. Notice how different people could look at these types and come up with different classifications based on different criteria. This is why classification is considered to be artificial or interpretive. Let’s look at a short example from a literature review of music genres. Hit the space bar to pause the video. Music genres could be classified according to the number and type of instruments used, their origin or the themes touched on in the lyrics. But in this case, the writers are classifying
these genres according to popularity and longevity, as we can see from the topic sentence. They contrast how rock is still widely popular after many decades while disco was rather short-lived. Whether that’s a good thing or not is
open to discussion, of course. Before starting to type, the writers may have organised their ideas in a diagram like this. With a Y axis for popularity and an X one for longevity, and locating each genre in the plot area. But can we use more than one schema? Definitely. This graph produced by Google’s music timeline tool shows a variety of music genres and their popularity since the 1950s. In fact, these schema — time and classification — are very frequently used together to present a development of ideas or phenomena over time in lit reviews. But what does it look like in writing? Keeping with our music theme, this is an excerpt from a literature review on the concept of world music. Hit the space bar to pause the video. Here, time and classification are being used together as the primary organising principles of part of this literature review. The writer first explains the emergence of the term ‘world music’, which puts it in a different category to simply ‘music’, referring to Western music. A few paragraphs later, he uses a time framework to chronicle the trends in music studies. This is an example of how analytical frameworks can be combined in literature reviews. To summarise, you need to structure the information using a particular type of schema or a combination of schemas. We mentioned there are two types of schemas — natural such as time, place or process and artificial, like those listed here. We also mentioned that using natural frameworks exclusively may make your writing more descriptive than analytical. That is, if you merely list research in chronological order without any attempt at drawing a classification, establishing causation or making comparisons, you will have done little to demonstrate you can grasp the big concepts in your field. Different sections in your lit review can be organised according to different frameworks or a combination of them. Outlining your ideas in diagram form may help you envision your lit review more clearly. When you are reading literature reviews from previous theses, you can ask your supervisor for recommendations. You can attempt to represent their analytical framework either in bullet or diagram form. What schemas are more commonly used? Do they serve different purposes? Thinking about this will help you structure your lit review. To go back to our initial analogy, before you start writing, you need a blueprint — otherwise there’s a high chance the result will be disastrous. What’s more, having a detailed outline will significantly reduce your time staring blankly at the screen thinking about what to write next. So investing time in the planning stage will certainly pay in the end.

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