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You have already done a lot of research, which has resulted so far in an annotated bibliography. For this assignment, you will synthesize the information that you found in all of that research into wh
You have already done a lot of research, which has resulted so far in an annotated bibliography. For this assignment, you will synthesize the information that you found in all of that research into what is called a literature review—or an overview of the scholarly conversation about your subject.
A literature review (lit review) is a common and important academic genre, in which you review and synthesize available research on the topic. Like the Op-Ed, your Literature Review will identify camps within the scholarly conversation. The lit review will then explain, describe, and define the stakes associated with the particular positions taken by your source authors. Reviewing the literature is a key step in being able to contribute to an academic conversation. You will very likely use portions of this paper in the next assignment—the research paper.
Synthesis is the process of combining diverse elements into a recognizable whole. In the lit review, this means putting a lot of different sources together. You combine the main ideas of each, and in doing so 1) show how and where the different sources work together, 2) show how and where the different sources work against each other, and 3) create a space for you to position your own argument.
STEP ONE: The first step is to identify the clusters/camps/schools of thought:
- What are the points of convergence?
- Who is talking to each other (via citation)?
- What are the topics and subtopics in the conversation?
- Who is talking about the same topics and subtopics?
- What clusters/camps are forming around the topics and subtopics?
- What are the connection points where ideas intersect and/or push against each other?
STEP TWO: The next step is to group together the clusters and identify the big ideas:
- Are there smallish clusters that can be joined by a slightly larger idea?
- Are some of the ideas emerging as more important than others, by virtue of more citation, more explanation, etc.?
- Do you find some of the clusters more compelling than others? Why?
List three or four of the big ideas under which you can group the clusters. Those clusters that you can't fit in may just not fit in this literature review. Don't force ideas together, but make sure you are looking for every angle and every point of connection.
STEP THREE: The next step is to organize the ideas.
- Is one of the ideas more current and treated more favorably in the most recent literature?
- Is there one idea that you prefer?
- What are the logical connections between the ideas?
- How are the clusters/camps building on each other?
The big ideas will become the subheadings for the literature review. You need to decide what order to put the big ideas in. It's common to work both chronologically and by importance of the ideas within the context of your particular contribution. You'll begin with the formation of the conversation and the fundamental concepts and ideas, to innovations and developments of those ideas, and then to the most recent adjustments and tweaks to the arguments. This is because, you are working toward your own argument which needs to be fitted into the most recent and important arguments.
STEP FOUR: What do "They Say" and what are the stakes?
What are the stakes in this conversation? According to the sources gathered in your body of research:
- What are the most important issues?
- Why does the topic matter?
- Who does it matter to?
- What does it impact?
These are the stakes of the conversation.
For each big idea, pull two or three quotes out of the research you've done on your topic. The quotes should be about important points that you need to include in the literature review. Underneath each quote, explain it in your own words. Make sure that a couple of the quotes get at the stakes of the conversation.
STEP FIVE: Write the literature review.
Here is a basic structure for a literature review:
- Introduction: +/-2 paragraphs, in which you describe the topic generally, define any key terms, and define and label the clusters/camps that will structure the rest of the literature review.
- Section 1 (You might use a subheading that indicates the general subtopic you will discuss): This section should be about the fundamental concepts and the beginning points of the conversation. This section should include the major authors who are nearly always referenced in other articles on the same topic. Call attention to what is at stake in the conversation. In 1+ page, describe that subtopic, by bringing together the clustered ideas, calling attention to and explaining what kinds of arguments are already being made about that subtopic. You should note the relationships between ideas, authors, clusters/camps as you describe the big idea of that section. Your thesis probably belongs in this section. (See note on thesis below.)
- Section 2 (You might use a subheading that indicates the general subtopic you will discuss): What's the next logical idea? In about 1 page, describe the next subtopic by bringing together the clustered ideas, calling attention to and explaining what kinds of arguments are already being made about that subtopic. You should note the relationships between ideas, authors, clusters/camps as you describe the big idea of that section.
- Section 3 (You might use a subheading that indicates the general subtopic you will discuss): In about 1 page, describe the next subtopic by bringing together the clustered ideas, calling attention to and explaining what kinds of arguments are already being made about that subtopic. You should note the relationships between ideas, authors, clusters/camps as you describe the big idea of that section.
- Conclusion: In 1-2 paragraphs, draw some general conclusions about the conversation in general, which will allow you to recap the major parts of the argument. The general conclusions should get at why the topic is relevant—the stakes. Point out existing holes in the conversation, gaps where more research needs to be done or where a different argument needs to be made.
Writing a Thesis for a Literature Review
A literature review needs a thesis, but it won't be in the form of "I will argue...". Instead, the thesis of a literature review needs to overview the conversation, calling attention to the major points of convergence, divergence, and clusters. It might follow this template: In reviewing the literature on ____________, I will show that ____________________ viewpoint differs from ________________viewpoint, and that ultimately what is at stake in this conversation is _________________________.
The literature review needs to be:
- 3-4 pages long (the works cited page does not count toward the page count)
- using a standard 12-point font (no courier)
- with standard margins
- and numbered pages
- with name, date, section number, and instructor at the top of the first page (no title page necessary)