So, You’ve Completed Your Coursework, Aced Your
Exams, and Gained Topic Approval. What’s Next?
Sherry Wynn Perdue, Director
Oakland University Writing Center
[email protected]
Anne Switzer, Assistant Professor
Outreach and Social Sciences Librarian
[email protected]
Part I: Composing the Literature Review
WHAT is (and is not) a literature review?
HOW should you frame the literature you locate?
How should you draft the literature review?
WHAT role does the committee play in your project?
WHERE is institutional support available?
Getting Started
• Do you understand the purpose and scope of a
literature review?
• Do you comprehend the difference between an
abstract or an annotation and a literature review?
• Have you examined dissertations that your chair
values? Have you (and your chair) annotated these
models to demonstrate why and how authors have
If your dissertation is qualitative, look for qualitative models,
What is the Dissertation Literature Review?
• A professional conversation framed by a guiding concept
• A comprehensive exploration of existing scholarship on a
specific topic
• “An account of what has been published on a topic by
accredited scholars. . .” (Taylor & Procter, 2001)
• An answer to a persistent question (R. Elmore, Harvard
Graduate School of Education)
A well-framed (by theme, method, chronology, etc.)
presentation of the current state of topic knowledge, which is
designed to highlight past research findings and to pave the
way for your study
Characteristics of a Dissertation Literature Review
• An introduction that shares the persistent question(s) the
reviewed literature will address and indicates how the
reviewed scholarship will be framed
• An organizational frame, which groups relevant scholarship
by topic, chronology, theoretical approach, methodology, etc.
and/or a combination of approaches
• A series of transitions organic to the discussion that indicate
how different studies approach the same issues both within
individual paragraphs and between paragraphs
Characteristics of a Dissertation Literature Review
• Evidence of how conflicting findings within the literature might
be understood or potentially resolved by addressing the
methodology, sample size, questions asked (and not asked),
• A conclusion that clarifies how the literature demonstrates the
efficacy of the dissertation study. Does it demonstrate a gap in
the literature? Does it identify a conflict that needs resolution?
In many cases the specific research questions for the student
author’s proposed study will be shared here too
Literature Review Pitfalls: Forgetting to Frame
Failing to synthesize ideas and information from your sources
into a narrative account of what the professionals currently
know with the purpose of credentialing your study
• This synthesis could be framed by date, theoretical
orientation, method, issue, etc.
• The literature review, however, is not an annotated
bibliography. In other words, you organize the literature review
by issues and ideas rather than by individual sources. Your
goal is to create a conversation between and among the
scholars on each important issue reviewed.
Literature Review Pitfalls: Overreliance on Quotations
Excessive quoting undermines your authority, drowns out your
voice, and creates disturbances in the narrative flow. You gain your
reader’s trust by sparingly and strategically using other people’s
In most cases, you should paraphrase the material, selecting
only the portions of the original quote that you need.
Generally when you use consecutive words from the original,
you must place quotation marks around all directly quoted
material and use a parenthetical citation that includes the page
number. This advice does not include the names of theories or
tests, which are often quite long and should be included as
used in the literature.
Literature Review Pitfalls: Patching not Paraphrasing
“Patching” occurs when you insert a series of borrowed ideas and
phrases; these strings often differ only slightly if at all from the original
wording, whereas paraphrasing involves both rewording and
reorganizing the original material; “synonym swapping” is not a
paraphrase. Patching is a form of plagiarism, even if the writer
provides a parenthetical citation.
You can mediate the potential for plagiarism by taking accurate
notes in your own words, carefully noting the source and page
You can ensure that the relationships between ideas and sources
are clear by using rhetorically accurate transitions. For examples,
see Graff and Birkenstein’s They say/I say: The moves that matter
in academic writing (2010).
Note: To avoid patching, practice making this material your own. You
will need to read a great deal more material than you cite.
Literature Review Pitfalls:
Cursory Overview or Biased Sample
Haphazardly collecting research on your topic
You must implement a specific search strategy and a culling strategy, which
you can justify to your readers.
Failing to ensure that your literature review is comprehensive because
you were unaware of the seminal studies on the topic
ISI Web of Science is helpful for locating such works.
Consciously choosing to omit scholarship that challenges your initial
hypothesis, methodology, etc.
If you narrow your review to two of three pedagogical approaches or to three
potential antagonists among many, you must indicate the rationale for this
Note: Whether intentional or not, these omissions will invalidate your claims.
Further, you may find it necessary to consider this pitfall as you evaluate other
scholars’ research.
Literature Review Pitfalls: Failing to Connect
Foundational Studies to Your Project
Citing “seminal” works—studies that are most cited by others—
without demonstrating how these significant, early studies
complement, qualify, or contrast with the approach taken in
your research.
While it is helpful to consult reviews of the literature most
crucial to your subject (because they can guide your
understanding of your own source base), it is essential to
gain a firm understanding of the foundational studies that
will contribute to the argument you make.
Note: Everything you discuss in your literature review needs to
pave the way for your project.
Getting Started: The Source Grid
• A graphic organizer that helps you document your
“talking points,” the level one headers of your
literature review
• A non-linear outline of the major topics that your
literature review will synthesize
Drafting from the Source Grid
Read, evaluate, and group the literature by major topics or talking
points, which become the columns of the source grid.
Draft one column at a time. In other words, compose the text like a
Each paragraph/section develops an idea rather than simply
summarizes the results of one article. While there are times that an
individual study might occupy a whole paragraph (it could be the only
study on an important issue), usually the paragraphs situate studies on
similar topics in relationship to one another using transitions that
indicate the relationship between and among the sources
(similar/different method, similar/different result, similar/different
explanation of a problem, etc.)
Caution: Never compose a draft without including an citation for each
source as you go. For a sad example of what can happen when this
advice is neglected, listen to this story about Pulitzer Prize winning
historian Steven Ambrose.
Example Paragraph
Unwilling to equate research and legitimacy with the quantitative
methods that Braddock et al. endorsed, some compositionists began
employing qualitative methods in the late 1970s and early 1980s:
Donald Graves (1979) used case studies, Linda Flower and John
Hayes (1981) turned to speak-aloud protocols, Shirley Brice Heath
(1983) explored community literacy via ethnography, and Nancie Atwell
(1987) advocated reflective practice (Herrington, 1989). Increased
qualitative scholarship, however, was not the only factor contributing to
the methodological debate. Smagorinsky (2005) has attributed these
methodological choices to the emergence of identity politics and to the
growing influence of poststructuralism in academe. The works of
Derrida, Foucault, DeMan, and Bakhtin, founded on semiotics and
poststructuralist theory, encouraged English literature and composition
scholars to resist what they claimed as the objectivism in data-driven
research (Smagorinsky, 2005). While most critics argued that the
method should fit the rhetorical situation (audience and purpose), many
advanced an implicit (later explicit) assumption that social science
methods were not adequate to the task (Johanek, 2000).
Drafting and Integrating the Parts
To mediate distractions, Sherry finds it helpful to open a separate document for
each talking point into which I paste its grid material. If a good idea for a different
part of the paper intrudes on my process, I quickly click on that document and
record the idea before returning to the issue on which I am currently writing.
Continue to draft new talking points and redraft previously composed talking points
until you have good fragments (quilting squares) of the paper’s body.
Once you have the parts, you need to examine them in relationship to one another
to determine which talking points must come first.
After you determine the order of information within the body of the review, it is time
to insert and refine your transitions.
After composing the body, draft the introduction and the conclusion. Caution: It is
never a good idea to draft these before you know how the literature will come
Committee Concerns: Your Chair
• With whom do you work best? Under what circumstances have
you worked with this person in the past?
• Is s/he good at meeting deadlines and responding to questions
and submitted work? Will s/he read each chapter in a timely
manner and offer feedback on higher order concerns?
• Does this faculty member understand and appreciate your
research question and your methodology?
• Will s/he work well with the rest of the committee?
• Will s/he agree to let you seek guidance from members of the
committee before your proposal defense?
• Is s/he in a position to be both your coach and your buffer, as
• Will s/he provide you a model from which to follow?
Committee Concerns: Members
• Do potential members know you, your work, and your chair?
• Will each potential committee member’s expertise complement
your project?
• Can those you select work well with and defer to your chair?
• Will they meet with you to offer guidance before you draft the
Time Management
• Develop a timetable that breaks down the
dissertation into a series of manageable weekly
• Start the process early!
• Leave plenty of time for rewrites and edits.
• Request feedback as you go, rather than waiting until
a chapter is done.
When Should You Schedule a Writing Consultation?
After the research consultation (but before you start writing) to make a
plan and review the project specifications
After you have located and started reading your sources to discuss
potential talking points/headers for a source grid
After you have created a source grid to explore potential ways to situate
the issues within each major topic
Once you have drafted a section of the paper
Whenever you need help with documentation
Once you have a solid working draft, etc.
Anytime you get stuck or need a second set of eyes
Selected References
Elmore, R. Some guidance on doing a literature review. Retrieved on January
15, 2010 from
Feak, C. B. & Swales, J. M. (2009).Telling a research story: Writing a literature
review. Volume 2 of the revised and expanded edition of English in today’s
research world. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Galvan, J. L. (2013). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the
social and behavioral sciences. 5th Edition. Glendale, CA: Pyrczak
Graff, G. & Birkenstein, C. (2006).They say/I say: The moves that matter in
academic writing. New York: W.W. Norton.
Taylor, D. & Procter, M. (2001). The literature review: A few tips on conducting
it. Retrieved January 4, 2010 from:
University of Washington Psychology Writing Center. (2004). Writing a
psychology literature review. Retrieved January 15, 2010 from
Part II. Information Literacy
Thank You!
Anne and Sherry appreciate the opportunity to
speak with you about this high stakes manuscript.
Please feel free to schedule a Research Consultation
or a Writing Consultation for assistance at any stage
of the research and writing process as you move

Dissertation 101 - Oakland University