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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds [TYPEWRITER SOUNDS]

Skip to 0 minutes and 17 seconds I come from a linguistics background, and in the academy we deal in ideas. And ideas happen in language. So it’s pretty hard to separate knowledge and ideas and understandings from the language in which they are realised, because without the language, you don’t have the ideas. So I think anybody who thinks that knowledge is separate from language is kidding themselves, because knowledge is language, particularly in this context. A literature review is where you, as a writer, show your engagement with the field of research that you’re writing about.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds And I, in fact, think it’s a really hard part of any piece of research to write, because not only do you have to show how much you’ve read and how much you know about the field, but you have to– so situating yourself within the field, but you also have to find a really authoritative voice whereby you can critique that field and argue for your place in that field and show that there are gaps in that field. And I think for students, that’s particularly difficult, because they’re apprentice scholars. They’re not fully fledged scholars.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds And so to find that position of authority is actually quite challenging, let alone get your head around a whole field that you’re trying to show your place in, and why you come to be doing the research that you do, and why it’s important that you do the research that you’re doing. One of the features of writing a lit review that is particularly difficult for students is the way that the literature review is a technical and uncommon-sense piece of language. It engages with technical knowledge, specialised knowledge, discipline-specific knowledge, and has to be framed in language that is academic in its nature or register. So this means it’s really unlike the kind of things students are using in the everyday world.

Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds And so moving students from that common-sense way of expressing ideas into that much more abstract, technical, and specialised way of expressing ideas can be a real challenge. And there are particular language features that characterise that abstract, specialised, and technical way of construing knowledge. And those are things like normalisation, which is the turning of qualities, processes, verbs into nouns and bringing causal resources that often occur between the clauses, words like “because,” inside the clause to use words like “causes,” “creates,” “results,” “reasons.” So shifting students away from that spoken way of talking into a much more abstract and technical and normalised way of writing is quite difficult. And that involves a cascade of changes.

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds So as soon as you start to change your logic and your causal resources, you then have to change your noun resources and make things much more abstract. So students will be reading this, but being able to produce it themselves is a whole another ball game. And we need lots of ways to help students practise actually shifting that register of their knowledge construal from a more spoken and uncommon-sense way into a much more written– spoken and common-sense way into a written and uncommon-sense.

Field of knowledge

The representation of ideas

In this video we hear from some educators with a background in linguistics, who tend to talk about language a lot, and in perhaps different ways to how academics in other disciplines might be used to thinking about language. As you listen, think about whether anything they’re saying seems new to you.

Conversation starter

  • How do you see the relationship between ideas and language?
  • Is ‘content’ a useful metaphor or synonym for topic and text?

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This video is from the free online course:

Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review

University of Wollongong