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  • 00:06

    [Am I the only one struggling to write a literature review?]

  • 00:10

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY: No, you are absolutelynot the only one struggling to write a lit review. [Dr. ZinaO'Leary, Senior Lecturer] It is a really challenging typeof writing and it's not something you're probablyfamiliar with unless you've had to do it before,which is unlikely if this is your first research project.And it's also something, I mean, I still struggle with them

  • 00:30

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: because I think the instruction on how to write oneisn't that great.And it's a really confusing term,so if you're struggling to write a lit review,I'm not surprised.Even at the highest levels, when I teach,gee, the quality is really mixed.So I want to go over why this is a challenge

  • 00:53

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: and then how to really begin to thinkabout structuring a lit review.Now why is it confusing?It's pretty simple.It's confusing because a literature review is nota review of literature, all right?I going to say that again.A literature review is not a simple review of literature.So what do I mean by that?A lit review is an argumentative piece

  • 01:17

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: of writing that has a particular purpose.When you review literature, you'rejust doing it for yourself.I'm just going to see what's out there.I'm just going to be self-educated.I'm going to learn stuff.I'm going to inform myself of what's happening in the field.So it's about my learning.I'm going to form a foundation of topical a methodologyknowledge and expertise, so I'm going

  • 01:38

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: to become someone who knows more about my topic, whoknows more about the methods.So you're reviewing the literature for you.You're going to develop skills, you'regoing to understand critical thinking and critical analysis.And you're going to be looking for gaps in the literature,so that you can find that potential research question.So you're doing all of this reviewing of the literature

  • 02:00

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: and I even talked about it when I was talkingabout the research question.You get in there, so that you can learn stuffso that you'll be in a better position to do your research.So you're reviewing that literature.You are developing your own knowledge, your own methods.Everything is about you and your learning.We call that reviewing the literature, right,a simple review of literature.

  • 02:22

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: Now confusion starts when we ask youto write a lit review because that'sa totally different thing.Same words, a different order.No wonder it's confusing.So what is this mysterious thing that'scalled a literature review?It is a formal piece of writing.It is a purposeful piece of writing.So let's talk about what the purpose of that review is.

  • 02:46

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: There is one major purpose and thatis to argue the need for your own research.OK?In doing that, you're going to inform your audience of what'shappening in the field, so you'll be informing them.You're also, by doing this, goingto establish your own credibility as a researcher

  • 03:06

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: because you're going to show, I know this body of literatureand I can add to it.But here's the kicker.In doing this, you're arguing the relevance and significanceof your own research question.That's always the punchline of a lit review.You're going to get the context for your methodologicalapproach and you're going to argue

  • 03:28

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: the relevance of that approach.So how do you do this?You do this by writing arguments.The lit review is an argumentative pieceof literature.You're going to argue that the body of literature, as itstands now, would be very well supplemented by what

  • 03:50

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: you are going to try to do.Now what arguments are going to take youto that final punchline?That depends on what you find in the literature.As you become an expert in this area,you might realize, gee, there's some false assumptions goingon here that I'm not really sure about.And that might be one category.There might be methodological flaws,

  • 04:12

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: there might be a preponderance of quantitative studies,and no one's really looked in depth.Or maybe everything's been small and case study orientedand you want to do a large quantitative studythat no one's ever really tried before.So there can be lots of different reasonswhy there's a need.Maybe the need is that no one's done it in your country,

  • 04:34

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: maybe no one has done it with a particular demographicof people, and maybe there's an assumptionthat what happens in a middle classwhite suburb is what happens in a ruraland in an urban inner city area.And maybe you think that assumptiondoesn't hold water, so you're going to write this literatureso that the punchline comes down to, therefore, the study, as I

  • 04:56

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: am proposing it, is well worth doing.Now you might not use that language,but that's what you're trying to do.But what we end up doing because we think,oh, I've reviewed the literature isyou want to tell me what's in the literature.You want to tell me that these arethe studies that have been done and thisis what they found, OK.And that is way too-- it's a novice approach.

  • 05:18

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: It's a novice's approach.You really want to be much more sophisticatedand arguing the whole way through.So how do you do this?Now I think there are some steps you can followfor writing a good lit review.You have to remember that we are in an information age,so you'll get tons of literature.

  • 05:39

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: You really have to think about not reviewingevery piece of that literature.Back when I was doing my studies, my Master'sand my Ph.D., you actually could reviewa full body of literature because we onlyhad access to so much.Now you go into Google Scholar, into a database,into your library's search engineand you'll have 100,000 studies that you need to look through,

  • 06:01

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: so you do have to be argumentative.All right, so what I suggest?Understand that doing a lit review is an ongoing process.It's going to be something you start right away whenyou're trying to understand what's going onand then you're thinking about these argumentsand how to develop them the whole way through.The other thing I would do is read

  • 06:23

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: a few good relevant reviews.So if you're doing a Master's thesis,find a couple of Master's theses that did well in your topicand see how they structure the review.You're doing a Ph.D., do the same.If you're looking at a smaller scale report for an internshipprogram or work based program or something that quite tight,

  • 06:46

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: read some of those that have done well.Know what you're looking at.In fact, when you're reading journal articlesget a highlighter and highlight the entire lit review section.If you do that at least you'll start to see the flow and howit's constructed.So you read these all the time, but theydon't kind of click in the brain as lit reviews, so read them.

  • 07:08

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: That will help you.As you do your search of different bits of literature,make sure you're compiling your citations with the abstracts.Read those abstracts, cull out anything irrelevantbecause there's going to be a huge body of literature.Assess whether you need to dig deeper and focus your reviewor whether you need to go broader.

  • 07:30

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: Make sure you're taking good notes on every articleand logging them in.I am not the best notetaker and I'll read somethingand I'll think, that makes sense,and I'll jot a note somewhere.Do you think I can find it later when I need it?No.So be systematic.There's some wonderful software for annotating a bibliography

  • 07:50

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: that you can use that summarizes and keeps track of everything.All right, so you want to log and annotate.You want to sort and organize your annotations.So now start to think argumentatively.What are the arguments that are goingto drive me to that final punchline of therefore,I should do my research.And start to organize those annotationsthat you've kept in that literature.

  • 08:11

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: That'll help you develop those arguments.Now try writing.When you try to write up your lit review,really think about writing purposefully.What I tell my students when they give me a headingand they'll say, oh, I don't know, child abuse.Make it an argument situation.

  • 08:33

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: Child abuse is under reported.Say something.Put a verb in there because now you'regoing to make an argument that the literature shows something.Whatever it might be.All right?Recycling behaviors.Recycling behaviors are underreported.Whatever that might be.It doesn't matter as long as there's an argument you're

  • 08:53

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: trying to make.The literature is sparse rather than justsaying the literature.When you make those headings, now you'llknow when you write what you actually need to prove.And that's the idea here.You're going to make arguments and thenyou're going to use the literatureto support your argument.So it becomes almost like references for your argument.

  • 09:16

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: So it's not a simple Wong said, Smith said, Jones said.It's this is the argument I'm makingfrom looking at the body of literatureand here's the support of those things.And you'll get used to that as you read more lit reviews.The other thing to think about is the tone and the style.So as you read lit reviews, notice that as well.

  • 09:38

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: Sometimes when students do lit reviews,they just want to kind of pick holes in everythingand they're like this is what's wrong with this one,this is what's wrong with that one.And it's not really about that, it's reallyabout not being someone who can find the easy critique.It's about being someone who can really understand at the largerlevel what's going on, so that you'rein a position to add to that body of knowledge.

  • 10:01

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: Opposite side of that, don't be overly deferential.Don't be someone who's just thinking,oh, wow, these are all amazing researchersand I just can learn from them.As a researcher, you're going to be a producer of knowledge.You have to be a player in the game.So getting that tone right is important.The final thing I'd say in doing a lit review,

  • 10:23

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: is get plenty of feedback.And be prepared to redraft.So give this to your supervisor, give thisto someone who's willing to read it.Say does it make sense.This is my argument.Is it coming through?And be prepared to have to rewrite it.It's not an easy thing to do.Not an easy task, but keep working at it.

  • 10:46

    DR. ZINA O'LEARY [continued]: And if you follow those steps and really become familiarwith the craft of writing a lit review,it will get easier as you go.

Video Info

Series Name: Doing Your Research Project

Episode: 2

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd

Publication Year: 2017

Video Type:Tutorial

Methods: Literature review

Keywords: attitudes and behavior; expertise; feedback; learning and motivation; needs analysis; relevance (education); Scholarly journals; Structured notes; writing (composition) ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Dr. Zina O'Leary explains the misconceptions and struggles students often have with writing a literature review. She also provides step-by-step guidance on writing a persuasive literature review.

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Am I The Only One Struggling To Write A Literature Review?

Dr. Zina O'Leary explains the misconceptions and struggles students often have with writing a literature review. She also provides step-by-step guidance on writing a persuasive literature review.