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Academic Coaching & Writing

II. Organization and Assessment of Existing Research

Aug 23, 2013 by Dr Sally

In this blog, you will learn how to organize and review the relevant literature written on your topic.

As you learned in the last blog, a literature review performs two functions for your readers:

  • Provides an overview of your topic, issue, or theory under consideration and
  • Places your original work within the context of existing literature.

The review of literature is not a place where you merely summarize literature on your topic. Simply describing or cataloguing the literature you have read on your topic is not enough. Your readers expect you to understand the issues surrounding your topic and to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate these issues for them.

This level of writing requires that you address the major issues and controversies (you cannot ignore these issues nor write around them) and analyze and interpret the issues surrounding your topic.

In other words, to write an effective literature for your readers you need to

  • organize the issues related to your topic into categories, concepts, or themes,
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature related to these categories, concepts, or themes,
  • analyze the similarities and differences within these categories, concepts, or themes,
  • synthesize what is known and unknown about your topic for each of these categories, concepts, or themes,
  • evaluate the merits of the different issues related to your topic, and then
  • make clear what direction future research on your topic will take.

To organize your research, you need to dig deeply into the literature to identify the ideas related to your topic. The issues can be viewed as a set of categories, concepts, or themes that you will use to review the essential, current, and relevant research on your topic.

To help you evaluate the prior research, consider the following for each source essential and relevant to your argument:

  • What are the author’s credentials and qualifications to make the judgments he or she has made? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings)?
  • Is the author's perspective neutral and unbiased or heavy-handed and biased? Is evidence ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Which of the author’s ideas are credible and convincing and why? Are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing?

In the next blog, you will learn more about how to analyze and synthesize the prior research by using a tool to help you visualize the ideas related to your topic.

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