You wouldn’t give directions like this, so why do it in your literature review?

Do you do this in your literature review?

Hey, can you tell me where the town centre is please?


Sure, Traffic lights, Queens Road, Hospital, Henry St, Big grey building with lots of broken windows and a revolving door, corner shop, bus stop, car park, pedestrian crossing and you’re there.

Helpful?

No. Coherent? Definitely not. Did I used to write my literature review like this? Unfortunately yes. Please learn from my bad example and don’t do the same thing.

Literature review and directions

You see a literature review is a lot like a set of directions. You take your reader from one point to a destination, which is your conclusion. The directions have to make sense and go from one point to the next seamlessly, so that the reader can understand where to go.

What did I do?

Well I certainly didn’t give directions. What I gave was a list of relevant landmarks (or journal articles) without linking them together. This is incredibly frustrating to read and less than useless. It is impossible for the reader to follow and understand how you came to your conclusions. This is a disaster and completely undermines what you want to say.

What I should have said

Sure, from here you go to the end of the road and turn left onto Queens Road at the traffic lights. Follow Queens Road for a quarter of a mile until you see the hospital on your left hand side and take the next right turn onto Henry St.

Clearer?

I think so. Why? Well it’s because you as a reader are positioned into the text and are easily able to interact with it. There are markers throughout the two sentences to tell you where you are going, but also where you came from, so there is no doubt as to the direction you are travelling.

How to apply this to your writing

Have a look through your writing, or better yet, have someone else look through it for a more objective view. Try and identify where you describe pieces of work in isolation and don’t link them together. The structure is quite easy to spot, “X said this. Y said that. Z said something else”. Now try and work out how you should guide your reader through these works. Here are a few obvious ways,

Compare and contrast them

Discuss how they are similar and how they differ, if they agree or disagree.

Building on

Does one piece of work build on another?

Parallels

Are they unrelated but have a parallels. Think about methodologies for example.

Alternatives

Does one piece of work represent an alternative way of doing things?


There are loads more ways to do this (if you think of any, please leave a comment), the point is though, you have to be explicit in your text. Don’t assume that people can read between the lines because they can’t, there are too many variables. Make sure you tell the reader where they have come from and where they are going at regular intervals to prevent confusion and frustration. That’s the last thing you want your reader to feel right?

Now…

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