LM3.2 Literature Reviews pt. 2

Learning Module 2.1 will continue to explore
the literature review assignment, and give you the necessary strategies for succeeding
at this difficult, but rewarding (and necessary) writing task. In this module, we’ll cover
some specific questions to get you started organizing sources, the best way to use the
synthesis matrix from RT3.1 to describe patterns in research, ways of structuring a literature
review, and a general list of “dos” and “don’ts” for this kind of assignment. To review from the last learning module, a
literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars
and researchers. Essentially, you are describing the state of the academic conversation on
a topic. You decided on what that topic is in RT2.2, the individual topic proposal. You
located and summarized sources related to that topic in the Annotated Bibliography.
Now, your job is to make meaning of those sources, and try to draw connections between
them. Your reader should come away from a literature review with an understanding of
what the basic ideas and concepts are related to your research question. It can help to think about the literature
review as a critical multi-book book report. You are making an argument in a lit review,
but that argument is pretty much going to be “this is the current state of research
on X, and this is where the gaps in the research are on X.” The logical place to begin working on the
literature review is with the annotated bibliography you’ve already completed. The whole purpose of the annotated bibliography
was to give you the “raw material” for the literature review. In the annotated bibliography,
you had to summarize sources, locate relevant quotations, and craft a reasoned introduction
for the entire document. The literature review adds synthesis of the sources to that mix
of rhetorical purposes. Begin by organizing your sources from the
annotated bibliography. Develop a strategy for putting them together to represent relationships.
Once you determine how the sources are in conversation with one another, you’ll essentially
have an outline for the literature review. As you are trying to think about relationships
between sources, and what some of the main points of conversation (and contention) are
among your sources, there are some basic questions you can ask about each source. Use the following
questions to take notes about your sources, above and beyond the annotations you’ve already
written. Don’t think about your sources in isolation: think about how they relate to
one another, and what the “big picture” looks like. First, ask what the overall position of an
article is. We’ve already established that a good research question, and thus a good
topic, lends itself to positions and arguments. If you’ve done your reading in The Craft of
Research, you know the qualities of a productive and viable topic. A good topic should lend
itself to various positions. Think about what the “thesis statement” is for each article. Next, think about the differences and similarities
of the articles’ positions. Is there much consensus, or do several of your sources disagree?
What is the disagreement about? Where is the overlap in terms of positions, and where is
the contention? For each source, ask yourself how the authors
justify their research. How do they explain the significance of the work they are publishing?
How do they establish credibility in the field? Does a source’s author identify a specific
area of need in the existing scholarship into which they neatly fit? Then, think about how they are using evidence.
What kind of evidence are they using in the first place? Quantitative? Qualitative? Some
combination? What weaknesses do you perceive to be a part of the extant evidence? Also, think about where evidence overlaps.
Do different sources refer to the same foundational study? Do they use similar methods? Do sources
with similar positons also employ similar evidence? Finally, and most importantly, when you look
at all the sources as a whole, do you see any gaps in the research? What are some issues
that aren’t covered in your sources that you think need to be addressed? You’ve already
laid out your own research topic: think about how your idea “fits in” to the existing work.
Ideally, you will identify a gap in scholarship into which your own research proposal fits
neatly later one. You can use a synthesis matrix to organize
your responses to these questions, and to help generate some meaning out of your source
inquiry. You have to create a synthesis matrix for RT3.1, but I want to talk about what you
can do with this type of chart more generally, as I think it can be a useful tool for different
kinds of research problems. See Blackboard for the specific instructions
for RT3.1. This module will stick to going over how the synthesis matrix actually works. A synthesis matrix is a tool to help visualize
where sources fit together. Think of synthesis as the opposite of analysis. If you are analyzing
something, like a book or a movie, you are essentially taking it apart to find meaning.
In synthesis, you are putting things together to find meaning. In this case, you are putting
together academic sources to make meaning. The synthesis matrix puts sources in the horizontal
axis and main ideas on the vertical axis. Be sure you clearly identify each source in
the horizontal axis so you don’t accidentally lose track of something. If we look at the example matrix, here, you’ll
see what it can look like. Let’s assume our topic is “Women in World War 2.” Suppose in
all of the reading we’ve done, the two main ideas that seems to come up are “alternation
of women’s roles because of World War 2” and “Hardships and oppositions women faced.” Across
the horizontal axis of the matrix, we have placed the authors’ names from our sources.
In the boxes are paraphrases and quotations that have to do with the main idea from the
vertical axis. Notice that each of the paraphrases and quotes has a page number citation from
the source: this is important! You’ll want to be able to go back and find an idea in
your source when you start to write the literature review. You’ll also note that the “opposing viewpoint”
isn’t necessarily represented in its own sources. As you can see, this chart points out quotations
and paraphrases from the sources that might suggest that times have not changed very much
for women. After your chart is complete, notice patterns
of information. You may find that your sources, at times, discuss very similar material, or
that they sometimes deal with completely different aspects of your topic. These patterns can
be useful in creating a thesis statement that can guide your writing and keep you focused
as you begin your draft.

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