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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds [TYPING]

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 seconds The role of the literature review is to situate what you’re doing. And even down to the new focus on impact and engagement that we have with our research, you can’t really– you have to engage with the community, and with– the community being broadly defined in terms of the national community, the international community, the particular stakeholders in the area that you’re working in, not just academics. You also have to engage with the academics. But if you can’t position your project within all the other work that’s been done on that topic, then it’s going be very hard for you to engage with the community.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds In an HDR context or in an undergraduate context, the literature review is still also demonstrating to the reader, the examiner, or the subject coordinator that you have actually read around the topic and that you have the capacity to support your arguments. But just in a nutshell, it’s positioning, what you’re doing within the field. A literature review is where you, as a writer, show your engagement with the field of research that you’re writing about.

Skip to 1 minute and 47 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, 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 2 minutes and 20 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. Yeah, I quite like the way that Jean Brick talks about, well, academic culture in general, but it works really well for the idea of the literature review, thinking about it as a conversation, a big conversation that occurs across time and space, internationally, across levels of seniority, students through to professors, and so on.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds And the idea that if that is what it is, then you really need to be able to find a voice, display your voice, and articulate the relationship between your voice and all the other voices in that discussion. If you can’t do that, then it’s a monologue, which is not what the whole thing’s about. You’re not actually participating in that western academic tradition if you are producing a monologue. And also, you can’t really find your voice if– it’s like a bad recording.

Skip to 3 minutes and 36 seconds If you can’t tell the difference between who’s speaking, then how can you find your voice in that metaphorical sense as an academic, if you’re not able to distinguish between who’s saying what, so what the content is, and how the other people approach it, and then so what they think about that, and then what you think about what they think about that, and then what they think about what you think about what they think about that. So it’s multilayered and multi-vocal. When you can support students to produce that kind of writing, it works much better.

Skip to 4 minutes and 15 seconds One of the things that a literature review is, in a sense, if we think about voice, it is a place of multiple voices where the writer has to weave all these voices, including their own voice, through this piece of text. So in a sense, it’s like when you stand at the door of the room called literature review, you’re going to open the door, and let a whole pile of voices in. And you have to decide which voices are allowed in my literature review, and which voices am I going to shut out at the door, and why am I going to shut them out. And there are particular ways of doing that.

Skip to 4 minutes and 47 seconds And then once you get them in the door, what am I going to do with them once they’re in the door? Am I going to burnish them, and make them really polished and shiny, and support them? Or am I going to tarnish them, and discount them, and critique them? And there are many, many ways of doing that. So students need to be taught, for example, what are the kind of verbs that I might use– for example, states, claims, argues, demonstrates, shows, what are the kind of verbs I’m going to use that will show I support that literature, and what are the kind of verbs I can choose from that show I don’t support that literature?

Skip to 5 minutes and 17 seconds And it’s not only the verb. That’s just one small example. How can I use different kinds of small parts of language and larger phrases that show the colour I want to place onto these voices in my literature review? What it means to be critical is perhaps a bit harder for students from some countries to grasp, because of, again, because of the sorts of learning styles and the academic discourse, the approach that is probably still a little bit more, learn the facts and repeat them, rather than get in there, and get your voice into the debate.

Stance and attitude

Text as dialogue and literature review as orchestration of voices

We can look at every text we read and write as a potential opening into conversation. As we discussed at the end of week one, you could imagine the literature review as a logical presentation of information, and a long engaging conversation with friends, or a debate, or an orchestration. Your view of the literature review will be encoded into the wording of your review.


In the next post I’ve considered one of the papers I’m reading in terms of the dialogue it represents between different voices, the ongoing exchange and development of ideas, and how the writer’s attitudes are expressed.

Conversation starter

• Do you tend to think about your literature as a big conversation amongst scholars?

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This video is from the free online course:

Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review

University of Wollongong