By Office of Writing Initiatives, Graduate School Research Commons, University Libraries, UMD.

Joining an Academic Conversation

Move from undergraduate to graduate work is a move from discovery and consumption of knowledge to analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and production of knowledge.


Skills Needed to Write a Literature Review

  • An awareness of the rhetorical and linguistic conventions of relevant texts
  • Critical thinking skills
  • The ability to synthesize information from multiple sources with summary and paraphrase
  • A way to organize a coherent analysis


  • Consider the connection between reading and research and writing for graduate school and reading strategies
  • Define and discuss outcomes for literature review
  • Consider rhetorical choices involved in preparing and shaping  a literature review

Burkean Parlor: A Metaphor for Academic Communication


Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. you listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes…


From Reading/Research to Writing


You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.


Read Actively!

Skim, Highlight, React

Skim: look at beginnings and endings of sections

Highlight: identify key ideas and underline/note; identify main points

React: Recognize correlations to others

Reading Effectively

How do you read effectively? What are your goals for reading?

Why do you read?

Building a Framework for Reading

Know why you are reading: determine your purpose

Know the author and journal


Determine the context for the article


Glossing for Reading

Read it, and as you read, gloss it:

for each paragraph, note what the paragraph says and does

Your goal is to understand both the substance and the structure, content and form.


Example of Glossing

The concept of property has changed from tangible forms to intangible forms such as intellectual property.


historically, what we have considered property has changed and intellectual property is becoming increasingly important.


This paragraph begins to establish why this argument matters (why cares intellectual property matters.


Where does a good literature review begin?

  • With a research questions.
  • Helps you discover and move toward filling – the gap of research.


What makes a good literature review?

  • A good literature review establishes your credibility.
  • Creating, Evaluating, Analyzing, Applying, Understanding, Remembering
  • A good literature review leads readers through a narrative of the past to clear space for future argument.


What can go wrong?

  • Search can fail to be systematic or comprehensive enough
  • Search and review may focus on the wrong sources
  • The writing can lack a sense of purpose
  • The review can be a collection of sources


What can go wrong, cont.

  • Writers may assume too much familiarity with the sources
  • Writers may fail too distinguish fact from opinion
  • Writers may offer generalizations that are unsupported by the sources
  • Poor organization can make reading


A literature Review is a Narrative

  • A research narrative
  • Narratives have settings (context)
  • Narratives have characters (trends, theories, authors)
  • A literature review is an argument. It is not just a list of summaries. Its persuasion is communicated to your readers as a story.


Should my literature review…

  • focus only on very recent publications?
  • ignore work not in your immediate discipline?
  • be organized chronologically?
  • begin with a historical overview of my field?


It depends on your situation…


Organizing Your Review

By table / linear


Year    Theory    Sample Size    Model Used Country    Type of Study

Study 1

Study 2

Study 3

Study 4


By mind map


Organizing with Stasis Theory

Fact: Questions of fact / conjecture /existence

Does it / a problem exist? Did it happen? What caused it?


Definition: Questions of definition / essence / categorization

How do we define this? What category of thing is it?


  • What caused it? What are its effects?


Quality: Questions of value / quality

Is it good or bad? How do we judge the effect / impact?


Action: Questions of action / policy

What shall we do about this? What policies should we enact?


e.g. pizza


  • Shall we have pizza?
  • Where shall we order pizza? Where is pizza coming from?
  • Who makes better pizza?
  • Why they makes better pizza?


Justification: Who decides?


What question can dominate in your discipline?


Title: Recent Advances in Developmental and Risk Factor Research on Eating Disorders

  • It concerns what’s new
  • What causes?

Keywords tells us RESEARCH FIELD: Eating disorders; Risk Factors; Development; Anorexia nervosa; Bulimia nervosa;

Abstract: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (i.e., DSM-5) currently recognizes three primary eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. The origins of eating disorder are complex and remain poorly understood. However, emerging research highlights a dimensional approach to understanding the multifactorial etiology of eating disorders as a means to inform assessment, prevention, and treatment efforts. Guided by research published since 2011, this review summarizes recent findings elucidating risk factors….


The rhetorical situation is the context of a rhetorial event that consists of an issue, an audience, and a set of constraints (purpose, genre, exigence, etc.)


What are the constraints?


Answers the question: Why does this matter?

Creates a need for what follows

“imperfection marked by urgency”

The beginning of argumentation



  • Statement of the case
  • Tell the story of the issue
  • Contextualizes your research question
    • How broad of an issue
    • Who is concerned with the issue (disciplines, scholars, publics)
  • Frames your issue


Another example.


Employment interviews are a popular selection technique from many viewpoints. In organizations around the world, employment interviews continues to be one of the most frequently used methods to assess candidates for employment. Among organizational decision-makers, interview have been found to be the assessment methods most preferred by supervisors.


… the problem exists among researchers for almost 100 years


While we have learned much about the employment interview, current research activity suggests that more remains to be uncovered…


Helping Your Audience Read



Metadiscourse is a term that is used in philosophy to denote a discussion about a discussion (and so on), as opposed to a simple discussion about a given topic.


  • Elements in a written text that refer to the text itself, not to the subject matter.
  • The longer the text, the more metadiscourse.
  • The more complex the material, the more metadiscourse.
  • It’s common at the beginnings and ends of sections, chapters, etc.


In my opinion can be superfluous.


It should  guide the reader, and in a literature review, especially helpful to help the reader understand connections.


  • In addressing the goals of this paper,
  • In addition,
  • Finally,
  • From this search,
  • in an effort to understand
  • This paper is organized around the overarching themes of reliability, validity and construct breadth, within a social network.