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Reviewing the Literature and Incorporating Previous Research

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Presented March 19, 2019

Last updated 4/10/2019



Visual: Slide changes to the following: Housekeeping

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    • Now: Use the Q&A box.
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Audio: Well, welcome everyone. It's great to have you here, and I'm so glad you could take the time to join us. We really appreciate it. My name is Beth Nastaschowski. I am a member of the Writing Center, and I'm going to help facilitate the session today along with Carey, our presenter, and Vania, our other facilitator as well. And so, I’m going to get us started by going over a couple of quick housekeeping notes.

So, a couple of things to keep in mind for everyone today. The first is that I have started that recording, as I mentioned, and I will be posting that in our webinar archive within 24 hours. So, if you have to leave for any reason or if you'd like to come back and review this session, you are more than welcome to do so. You can access that recording anytime. And I always like to take a moment here to remind everyone that all of our webinars are recorded, so if you ever see a topic being presented that you can't attend live, look for that recording. Or if you're ever looking for help on a particular topic, maybe other parts of your proposal or a final study, we have other archives in that webinar archive as well, so feel free to access those at any time.

I also wanted to note here that there are links throughout the slides that Carey has provided today to further information. You can click those links to access those pages throughout the presentation, but you can also download the slides Carey has as well as a couple of other handouts in the Files pod. That's at the bottom right‑hand corner, so feel free to do that as well. And I am pretty sure also we have a couple of points where we will have some discussion and chat boxes open that Carey will be using as well, so we encourage you to interact with your classmates and with Carey there as well.

Also note that there is an option for you to ask questions about the session, so we have a Q and A box on the right side of the screen. That's where you can ask questions or get help, submit comments or get technical help through that Q and A box. So, we welcome you to use that throughout the session. We want to hear from you. So do let us know if you have any questions or if we can help in any way. But also note that at the end of the session we will be displaying the e‑mail address for the editors and also know that there are live office hours for the editors. And we will have that information at the very end. But that's a great place to go if you have further questions after the session itself.

All right. So, with that, Carey, I will hand it over to you.


Visual: Slide changes to the title of the webinar, “Reviewing the Literature and Incorporating Previous Research” and the speaker’s name and information: Carey Little Brown, Dissertation Editor, Office of Academic Editing Walden University Writing Center.

Audio: Thanks, Beth. And I just want to repeat my thanks to everyone joining us today. Thanks for taking time out. And I hope that we give you some useful information and ideas today to use in your writing process. So, today's topic is Reviewing the Literature and Incorporating Previous Research. My name’s Carey Little Brown, and I'm one of the dissertation editors in what's now called the Office of Academic Editing, which is just a fancy name for a part of the Writing Center that has the dissertation editors working in it who conduct the form and style review.

The form and style review will come near the end of every capstone approval process, and during that review, we look at each doctoral capstone document that comes through at Walden, looking for APA style, overall writing, clarity, grammar, format, matching our template, and so forth. And I have been in that group since 2012. And I enjoy talking about the literature review because I think it's one of the more challenging writing tasks in the doctoral capstone. And the issues involved in writing the literature review relate not just to the literature review chapter or sections themselves, but to elements throughout the doctoral capstone document, as we'll be discussing.

And, Beth, one moment. I'm going to try to go full screen. I'm having a little technical glitch here. Here we go.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Webinar Objectives

  • How and why to incorporate previous research
  • Strategies for synthesizing cited/paraphrased material
  • Purpose and goals of a literature review in a doctoral study or dissertation
  • Resources for locating, reading, and organizing sources
  • Revision strategies and writing support resources for capstone writers

Audio: All right. So, for the main topics we are going to talk about today. We'll start out by talking about how and why you incorporate literature or previous research in your doctoral capstone. We'll talk about specific strategies for integrating or what we call synthesizing that literature material, your cited or paraphrased material, into your capstone discussion. We'll talk in general and specifically about the purpose and goals of a literature review in a doctoral study or dissertation at Walden. We'll discuss some resources for locating, reading, and organizing your sources in preparation for the literature review. And then we'll end with some discussion of revision strategies that you can use as you are going back to the literature review, which inevitably happens several times in the capstone process, and some support resources that we have at the Writing Center and elsewhere for people writing the literature review and other elements of the capstone.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Chat

In the chat box, tell us what you want to know:

What are you most concerned about when it comes to writing your literature review?

Audio: All right. So, before we get into that discussion, I'd like to hear a little bit from those of you that are here. If you would put in the, I believe it's the chat box, a description of what you're most concerned about when it comes to writing your literature review. Are there areas that are challenging for you or things that you have been particularly thinking about? And I'll pause for a moment while we let those answers come in.

[silence as students respond]

All right. So, I see some answers. Keeping the resources and statements organized so I can find the information. We'll definitely be talking about some tools to do so; I also find that very challenging. Synthesis, I see. Organization. Flow and cohesion. I believe we'll be talking about all these issues, so that's great. Making sure that the synthesis and paraphrasing are legit. That's a good answer. And definitely something that we will be talking about. I see some comments about, again, struggling with organizing the very large amount of material that you have to deal with for the literature review and maybe how to use software to do that. We'll talk about that a little bit. Knowing when to stop. Knowing how to get started, I see being added here.

Vania: Hey, Carey, this is Vania. Can I add something? There's something that was put into the Q and A box, and so I just wanted to add that, too, because you had just mentioned that someone talked about the breadth about, like the number of articles that you get. And someone over in the Q and A also added locating enough research articles for the lit review. So, I wanted to throw that in.

Carey: Oh, yeah. Well, I hope we will touch on, I think, probably all of these topics, at least certainly most of them. So, thank you for sharing that. I always like to get a sense of who's here and what's on your mind. Maybe we'll let, so I apologize to anyone who was cut off there. That was my doing. But thank you for sharing what you had done. All right. So, let's go into the presentation. And if you have any questions, Vania is welcome to interrupt me at any and all points, and I am happy to answer any questions you have or repeat anything that might have been unclear, too.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Purpose and Goal of the Literature Review

What is the literature review and why do we write one?

Audio: Okay. So, we'll start out talking generally about the purpose and goal of the literature review. What is a literature review and why do we write one? This might seem obvious, but I think there's some nuance here that's worth getting into.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature and the Doctoral Capstone Study

  • Appeal to scholarly authority
  • Verify and justify assertions
  • Address the broader audience
  • Provide background and context
  • Establish academic authority

Audio: So, some of the main purposes, like practical purposes, of a literature review in a capstone study are on this slide. Some of the things that you're doing in reviewing literature are appealing the scholarly authority, getting kind of scholarly backup for the statements that you're making. And that connects to verifying and justifying the assertions that you're making, making it clear that that's grounded in a larger discussion in the literature and it isn't just something that you are coming up with on the fly. You're addressing your broader audience, you know, outside your immediate committee, and you are entering that academic discourse on your topic. You're providing important background and contexts for the specific work that you're doing. And then this relates to all these other points. You're establishing your academic authority to talk about the topic. You are indicating that you are well‑versed in the literature, you are able to talk about it in ways that are authoritative and you are ready to enter that conversation.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature is used throughout a capstone document …

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Theoretical basis/Conceptual framework
  • Evidence of the problem
  • Literature review
  • Justification of methods and design
  • Discussion and conclusions
  • Implications and social change

                                                                                             . . . and on and on!

Audio: And as I mentioned at the beginning of this session, in many ways, we review the literature throughout a capstone study, and not just in that literature review chapter or sections, depending on what kind of capstone you're writing, but really throughout all of the parts of the dissertation and in various ways. So typically, in your introductory material, you are going to be integrating some literature as brief background and in those background sections. When you're talking about your theoretical or conceptual framework for your study, you'll be bringing in relevant literature; of course, the literature review itself. In justifying and discussing the methods and design that you've chosen for your study; you will be invoking literature there as well. In your discussion and conclusions, you'll bring some of that in, too. And even talking about the implications for social change of your specific study, often you're invoking other literature. So, the literature review skills that you develop for the literature review chapter are really applicable throughout the work and, I think, among the most important writing tasks in the document.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Sources and Synthesis

Audio: So, to begin talking about that, in terms of the sentence or paragraph level of actually writing the literature review material, we'll talk a bit about using synthesis in bringing in and discussing your sources.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Using Literature in Doctoral-Level Writing

Cite early, cite often!

  • Cite too much rather than too little
  • Leave a map for your reader to retrace your steps

Use your own words

  • Avoid excessive quotation
  • Paraphrasing clarifies how the cited information fits into your unique study
  • Effective synthesis

Audio: So, in using literature in doctoral‑level writing, you will want to, we say, cite early and cite often. It is better to have too many citations initially that you might pare back if it's getting redundant or too obvious than to have too little. And in doing that, in making sure that you're showing readers which sources are informing your work and informing your statements, you're leaving a map for them to retrace your steps, and that's part of that academic credibility piece of a literature review. You are showing where you went to get your information, you are indicating that that was a reliable and good set of places to go, and you are allowing your readers to go there as well for their own research. You want to use your own words in describing literature as often as you can. And by that, we mean do as much paraphrasing as you can.

Avoid excessively quoting. And later on, in the presentation, I will show some concrete examples of what excessive quotation might look like versus effective paraphrasing and synthesis. And I apologize, I see a technical glitch on this slide. I assume you're seeing that as well. And we'll try to get that cleaned up for what goes up online. Again, my apologies. But you're clarifying how the cited information fits into your unique study by engaging in synthesis, and that is ‑‑ yeah, and I think synthesis is what's missing on that last bullet there. Effective synthesis is what you do ‑‑ and we'll talk about that in more detail, too ‑‑ to bring analysis into your use of evidence, to integrate other people's literature and other people's statements into your own argument and discussion.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Summary vs. Synthesis

  • Summary

Brief description of one source’s main ideas

Tell brief story of each source

Annotated bibliography

  • Synthesis

Extended explanation of ideas, trends, themes, theories, and/or methods among multiple sources

Combine multiple sources to tell detailed story of your topic

Literature review

Audio: Okay. So, this slide is one that we've used in several presentations. You might have seen it before. But I think it brings out an important distinction when you're talking about writing about the literature, and that is the difference between summary on one hand and synthesis on the other. So, when we're talking about summary, that's what you would typically be doing in something like an annotated bibliography, you know, or a more, you know, basic explanation of the content of the source that you might want to describe.

A summary is usually a brief description of the main ideas of a single source. It's like telling a brief story of that source. And, again, that's the sort of thing that comes up in an annotated bibliography. Whereas synthesis is a more extended [explanation] of ideas, trends, themes, theories, and so forth, that is bringing ideas together across multiple sources and connecting that to your own work. It's combining multiple sources to sort of tell a detailed story of your topic rather than the story of the sources themselves. And when you're writing literature review, what you're aiming to do more often is synthesis. Now, there's going to be elements of summary within synthesis inevitably, but the overall goal should be a synthesis, and that's because the goal is to indicate the importance of the literature to your own specific work and the ways in which the literature interrelates with ‑‑ the works interrelate among themselves and with your own project.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Synthesis

  • Synthesis Language
  • Keller (2012) found that X occurred. Likewise, Daal (2013) found that X occurred but also noted that the effects of X differed from those suggested by Keller (2012).
  • Schwester (2013) reported results consistent with findings in Hill’s (2011) and Yao’s (2012) studies.
  • Although Mehmad (2012) suggested X, O’Donnell (2013) recommended a different approach.

Audio: All right. And one way to ‑‑ when we talk about synthesis, one way to think about that is really very fundamental, and that's ‑‑ you can think about basic synthesis language that you can use within sentences to connect one source to the next and to connect sources to your own work. And the examples on this slide show some, you know, really simple but, you know, I think important to know ways in which that can occur.

So, in the first example up at the top, we see, Schwester reported results consistent with findings in Hill's and Yao's studies. That's a simple sentence, but that is an active synthesis in that you're bringing together three works from the literature. And of course, you would need more explanation to indicate what this means, but you're bringing together more than one work to show the interconnections among them.

And then on the left, we see, Keller found that X occurred. Likewise, Daal found that X occurred but also noted that the effects of X differed from those suggested by Keller. Again, this is synthesis because you're bringing together more than one work. You're bringing together two works and showing meaningfully how they're similar and different and how they relate to one another within the larger discussion. And then, you know, there is the "although" sentence. In some ways, "although" can be synthesis language, and then showing the connections, comparisons, and contrasts between works.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Synthesis: Common Errors

  • Error
  • Present multiple sources in one    paragraph without clear connections
  • Force broad, illogical relationships among sources:
  • Most researchers agree…
  • Study X is just like Study Y
  • Use back-to-back direct quotations


  • Analysis & Synthesis
  • Present clear relationships among sources
  • Establish specific, logical connections among sources:
  • Author X’s (2013) results aligned with Author Y’s (2012) in these ways…
  • Use paraphrases and clear analysis to hold ideas together

Audio: Some of the common things we see in synthesis that ‑‑ or in writing about the literature and attempting synthesis where that might be less successful are on this slide. One of the things that I see often, I think, is that people are trying to bring together multiple sources to kind of get that conversation going among sources, you know, in the literature review, which is something that you want to aim to do. But there are not clear connections being drawn between those sources. They're just kind of being presented one after the other, and that's a very common error, and we’ll be illustrating that in a moment. In synthesis, the relationships between the ideas should be clear.

Another thing I see pretty commonly is trying to force connections between sources by making those connections too broad or sometimes not logical. So that might take the form of a statement like, most researchers agree, and that's a statement that's very hard to back up with hard evidence. That's probably too broad, too overreaching a statement. Or something like, Study X is just like Study Y, comparisons that may not be really completely articulated or that aren't fully accurate. You want to establish specific and logical connections, making those connections as well expressed as you can. So, the example here is, Author X's results aligned with Author Y's in these ways, and then you would talk about that in more detail.

Another common problem is the use of excessive or even back‑to‑back direct quotations instead of paraphrasing. And it's preferable in nearly all cases to use paraphrases because when you're paraphrasing, you tend to be bringing in more of your own take on the work, more of your own analysis, and you are ensuring that you understand it well enough to describe it in your own words, and that tends to help in making sure all the different ideas within a paragraph, within the literature review as a whole cohere. And so, I know that sounds kind of general. Let's look in more detail at what that might actually look like in practice.

But before I do that, Vania, were there any questions? I think I saw some chat happening that I couldn't read, so I don't want to overlook anything.

Vania: Yes. There were two ‑‑ one question is, are you going to talk about how to talk to the librarian? Or how to talk to librarians? Is that in a link? Or maybe we can just talk briefly about how to talk with librarians. And then another person was curious about, you know, really, what is the point of a lit review? And so, we have some basics, I think, on that. I have connected them link‑wise, but maybe we can talk just briefly about, yeah, why do we do this in the first place? And then I will go back on mute and continue answering questions over in the chat rooms.

Carey: Okay. Well, I'll briefly address this –

Beth: Sorry, Carey, I am going to say, too, I am going to replace the slides as you answer these questions, just to make sure that those links are available in the future. Those words that were being wiped, I fixed it on my end and I’m just going update it on my end.  


Visual: Slide went blank while upload is in progress.

Audio: Carey: Okay. Good. You know, I may be having a Microsoft Office issue because they were showing fine on my end, but this happened to me on something else recently, so I think it is ‑‑ it looks like we're reuploading those. Thank you. Yeah, my apologies. That's some kind of technical glitch. It was looking good on my end until I saw it on Adobe Connect. I think that's resolved. In the meantime ‑‑ and, Beth, I am still seeing "upload in progress." I hope that's okay. In the meantime, just to the point about the purpose of a literature review, in any kind of doctoral capstone, you are entering the academic literature on your subject. And so the point of a literature review most broadly, I guess, is showing your qualifications and your background in entering that conversation, so showing that you know what's already been said in that conversation, to continue that analogy, and that you have, you know, identified a gap in the literature that your work is filling, and that you have something meaningful to say that's well‑informed. So, I think it goes a long way toward establishing your credibility as a scholar and the meaning of your own work. So, let's go back forward.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Synthesis: Common Errors

  • Error
  • Present multiple sources in one    paragraph without clear connections
  • Force broad, illogical relationships among sources:
  • Most researchers agree…
  • Study X is just like Study Y
  • Use back-to-back direct quotations
  • Analysis & Synthesis
  • Present clear relationships among sources
  • Establish specific, logical connections among sources:
  • Author X’s (2013) results aligned with Author Y’s (2012) in these ways…
  • Use paraphrases and clear analysis to hold ideas together

Audio: On the library, we'll talk a bit about gathering ‑‑ in very general terms about gathering sources. And I believe there are some links there. And if not, I will talk a little bit more. This presentation, just because it is just a Writing Center presentation, doesn't get into that as specifically about using the library, but we will try to give you some resources to get you started in that process, or better connected.

So, if that was all for now, I will go ahead now into some of the examples of the kinds of errors that we see or things that can be improved in writing the literature review and aiming towards synthesis.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Common Errors: Stacked Summaries

Avoid back-to-back summaries without transitions or analysis, as in the following:

Arnett (2008) argued that the dominance of American academic journals in the field of psychology had led to the disproportionate representation of American samples, editors, and authors in the psychological research literature. Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) contended that American samples in psychological research studies, which often consist of undergraduate students, are not representative of humanity as a whole. Van de Vijver (2013) advocated further internationalization of psychology to make the field more inclusive.

Audio: So, as an editor, I would say one of the most common issues I see in terms of discussions that might not be as strong as they could be, you know, within the literature and in the aim towards synthesis is something that is sometimes called stacked summaries. And that might mean, you know, paragraphs that are stacked summaries one after the other, or in this case I have shown how sentences can kind of stack summaries within the same paragraph. And the idea here is that generally you want to try to avoid back‑to‑back summaries in a paragraph or in a section, you know, in general of the works of specific authors without transitions or analysis to connect them in meaningful ways. And so, the example here is a negative example of, you know, kind of what not to do. Now, these sentences might be useful, but they need some connective material here.

So, I have, Arnett argued that the dominance of American academic journals in the field of psychology had led to the disproportionate representation of American samples, editors, and authors in the psychological research literature. Now, that might be fine, but, you know, that's a summary of what Arnett said. And then I have Henrich, et al., contended that American samples in psychological research studies, which often consist of undergraduate students, are not representative of humanity as a whole. Now, that ‑‑ you know, Henrich, et al., have something related to say, but I am not doing the work of making that connection. I am just kind of sticking the summary of Arnett right up next to the summary of Henrich, and I am leaving it to the reader to make the connections. And to some extent, of course you do leave it to the reader to make connections. But I think here, you know, a little more connective material would go a long way toward indicating the relevance of these things to each other, and that might be bringing in some synthesis language, you know, and we'll look at some examples in a bit of how that might be done a little more effectively.

And then I have a third summary at the end by a name ‑‑ I think the name is Van de Vijver, advocated further internationalization of psychology, et cetera, et cetera. So, these sentences might be okay in a more integrated context, but they're not really linking up with each other. The reader is being left to do that work.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Common Errors: Dropped Quotations

Avoid dropping freestanding quotations in text, without links to the surrounding discussion:

Psychological research conducted with American participants may not be representative of humans globally. “Given human cultural diversity, how can it be justified to assume that a theory developed on the basis of research on a tiny proportion of the world’s population can ‘apply to all of humanity’?” (Arnett, 2009, p. 572). There is a need for greater cultural diversity in the psychological research literature.

Audio: Another thing that I see fairly commonly that we discourage, you know, in writing the doctoral capstone at Walden is something that might be called drop quotes, or I had a colleague who used to call them plop quotes. And by that, we mean like free‑standing quotations that are just kind of dropped in the text without any meaningful link to the surrounding discussion, again, where the reader has to make that leap. So here, you can see there's ‑‑ you know, the sentence begins with sort of a topic sentence. Psychological research conducted with American participants may not be representative of humans globally. And then it goes directly into a quotation from Arnett, without any introductory phrase, you know, with nothing, really, to contextualize that. And that's something generally to avoid. It creates an abrupt transition. You know, you need a little more connective material there to make that, you know, a more effective paragraph.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Common Errors: Too Many Quotations

Avoid overreliance on direct quotations:

As previously argued, student engagement is seen as an indicator for successful classroom instruction.  Additionally, it is valued as an outcome for school improvement efforts.  Fletcher (2012) suggested, “students are engaged when they are attracted to their work, persist in despite of challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work” (p. 1). Axelson and Flick (2010) further suggested, “the phrase student engagement has come to refer to how involved or interested students appear to be in their learning and how connected they are to their classes, their institutions, and each other” (p. 38).

Audio: By the same token, we encourage writers not to have too many quotations. So, in this example, I bolded ‑‑ you can see much of this paragraph actually consists of direct quotations, and that might be relevant or interesting material, but generally it is better and you’ll have a more engaging read and more effective synthesis if you paraphrase rather than directly quoting that material. We typically say to reserve direct quotations for things where the specific wording of the source is really meaningful or important, you know, or maybe is particularly eloquent and you really, really like it. And so really save it for those specific and rare instances rather than, you know, relying on a direct quotation. And there are other academic styles where you see more direct quotation. I think in APA style, you know, scientific writing and APA style, there is a preference for paraphrasing, you know, with citations rather than relying on those direct quotes.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Solution: MEAL Plan

Main idea




Audio: And so, one of the solutions that we recommend a lot in the Writing Center, and I know a lot of students find very useful, I find it useful myself, to avoiding some of these problems and achieving effective synthesis, is something we call the MEAL plan. And I'm sure this isn't the first time that some of you have heard that before. MEAL is an acronym and it stands for main idea, evidence, analysis, and lead‑out. And it's a good academic paragraph structure in general, but it's especially good and particularly designed for writing about the literature and incorporating evidence from the literature into your discussion. And the next slide shows in practice what that might look like.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Solution: MEAL Plan

Over the last decade, there has been active discussion among scholars about the need for greater cultural diversity in the psychological research literature. Arnett (2008), for instance, argued that the dominance of American academic journals in the field of psychology had led to the disproportionate representation of American samples, editors, and authors. Expanding upon this idea, Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan (2010) contended that American samples in psychological studies, which often consist of undergraduate students, are notably atypical of the human species. Indeed, the dominance of American institutions and publications in psychology appears to have created issues of cultural representation that place the “universality” of psychological research findings in doubt. The solution to this problem, in part, may involve greater internationalization of the field (van de Vijver, 2013).

Audio: So, I hate to put a bunch of text on a single slide, but we'll go through this one because I think it is worth looking at those elements of MEAL and what they might look like in a real‑life kind of context.

So, again, in MEAL, the M stands for main idea, and that's that topic sentence, you know, that we probably learned about in grade school when we learned to write. The main idea sentence that kind of anchors the whole paragraph around which everything ‑‑ from which everything follows or around which everything is organized. It's often the first sentence of the paragraph. It doesn't have to be. In this one, it happens to be. And so here, the topic sentence or the main idea sentence is, Over the last decade, there has been active discussion among scholars about the need for greater cultural diversity in the psychological research literature.

And then the next element in MEAL is evidence, and that's your information from the literature, your paraphrases, your quotations, your data, that information that you gleaned from reviewing the lit. So, in this case, I won't read all these sentences, but you can see in blue those are sentences consisting mostly of what I would just call evidence in the MEAL model. We have an idea from Arnett and then an idea from Henrich, et al. I do have some transitional language in there, like "for instance," and then the second sentence starts with "expanding upon this idea." And you might call that part of analysis. It's certainly part of synthesis. But mostly these blue sentences are evidence sentences.

And then the purple in this graphic is the analysis component of MEAL, the A in MEAL. And in here, that sentence, I say, Indeed, the dominance of American institutions and publications in psychology appears to have created issues of cultural representation that place the universality of psychological research findings in doubt. It's a sentence in my own words, you know, with my own ideas informed by the literature that kind of brings together and, you know, gives analysis to the paraphrases that appeared before it.

And then the L in MEAL is, I think, in some ways the trickiest thing to describe. We call that the lead‑out. And it's a sentence, typically a sentence or more at the end of the paragraph, and the idea is that it leads naturally, then, into the next part of the discussion, and that can really help with flow. I think one misconception that I see a lot is that in order to have a lead‑out, you need to have a sentence that like explicitly previews what you're going to say in the next paragraph, like, I am now going to discuss blah‑blah‑blah. And, in fact, that's sometimes useful, but often that's kind of clunky and awkward or it can seem kind of forced. So, I tend to think of it more loosely as something that's just sort of a natural pivot or wrap‑up or movement into the next paragraph. So here, I’m alluding to a solution to the problem that presumably I would then start to discuss in more detail in the paragraphs that follow. Rather than explicitly previewing what I am about to do. So, I know that's, you know, kind of a lot of information to digest. Are there any questions about that before I leave this slide?

Vania: Carey the question and answer box is just going so fast that I am so deep in student questions that I don't know how they aligned to what you've been talking about, to be completely honest. So I would say, we've got a lot of really broad questions coming into the question and answer box, and I would ask that students, if they feel like towards the end when we get to questions, if their bigger questions haven't been answered and I haven't been able to address them yet, that we cycle back to those questions, because I know you're going to cover a lot while we move through. So just a reminder to students that you are going to hopefully get to everything that they have. So as far as specific questions right now, I don't have any, but keep that in mind to all the students that are writing in questions, they're all really good questions, but you are going to address a lot of them.

Carey: Okay. All right. Great. I hope so. And if I don't, please don't hesitate to ask or, of course, as we'll talk about again, to contact us in various ways after the presentation if anything occurs to you that you want to ask later.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Synthesis: Additional Resources 

Want to learn more? Check out the following:

Audio: Thank you, Vania, I appreciate it, and thank you for answering those questions in the background there. I'm glad it's an active session.

All right. So, this slide just shows some additional resources. These should be clickable links on synthesis if you want some more examples, instruction, guidance, tips, et cetera. We have a webinar specifically about analysis and synthesis, which is linked here. There is an online guide that we have the topic sentences to dig into that a bit more. And we have a link here to what I believe is a blog post called the No Tears Plan for Composing Academic Prose. That's a more detailed discussion of paragraph construction. And so, if you are particularly interested in developing these parts of your work, I'd recommend those resources. And we have many, many more on the Writing Center and form and style websites too, so we will talk about that further along as well.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Recognize & Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism Prevention Modules

The Writing Center’s plagiarism modules focus specifically on how to incorporate and cite sources while maintaining principles of academic integrity.

  • Explore examples of plagiarism
  • Practice the appropriate ways to cite sources to avoid plagiarism
  • Learn about writing habits that might encourage or contribute to a writer plagiarizing

Audio: Of course, another issue that comes up in reviewing the literature and in synthesizing work, paraphrasing work, quoting work, is doing that within the bounds of academic integrity, meaning, you know, avoiding plagiarism. There's a link here to some plagiarism prevention modules that we have in the Writing Center that are meant to guide you very specifically on avoiding plagiarism in your work, and I'd recommend that. They will allow you to look at specific examples of what might constitute plagiarism in the context of writing about the literature at Walden. Practicing appropriate ways to cite sources to avoid plagiarism. And learning about some of the writing habits and organization habits that might either, you know, lead to unintentional plagiarism or help you to prevent that. So, I would recommend reviewing these resources as well


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Questions?

Up next: Overview of the literature review process and organization

Audio: Okay. I did stop for questions a moment ago, so I won't stop again now. But let's go on and talk a little bit about ‑‑ I saw a lot of comments at the beginning about the difficulty of organizing the sometimes seemingly massive amount of material you have to compile for the literature review. Let's talk about some ways in which that can happen.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature Review and organization

  • What it is
  • Why you do it
  • How you do it

Audio: We're also going to talk about, again, you know, what literature review is and why we do it, and then, you know, some ways to go about that process.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature Review Definition

  • Collection of materials on a topic

Scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles

(most common)


Government documents

Conference proceedings

Internal documents (sparingly; consult with faculty)

Audio: So, at its most basic level, a literature review is a collection of materials on a topic. And, you know, as I'm sure you're discovering, no matter if you're in any place in this process, you are going to be getting a great many sources of many different kinds. The bulk of them are going to be scholarly peer‑reviewed journal articles, and different programs have different requirements that I can't get into here because it does vary from program to program, for what percentage of the sources that you're referencing in the lit review have to fall in this category of scholarly peer‑reviewed journal articles. But it should be the majority of what you're looking at, typically with a preference for things published in the last, you know, three to five years, depending on, again, on your program.

But there are some other sources that might also be worked into the literature review. There might be certain books, like important seminal books in your field, important works of theory or methods, that sort of thing, that informed your specific project. You might, depending on what sort of study you're doing, there might be government documents that are relevant. There might be, you know, study site related materials. That you typically use sparingly. You might want to consult with your faculty about how to do it. If you have a study site that needs to be concealed, you’re not going to be siting those things directly or you will reveal what that study site is. There are some special considerations of those kinds of materials you want to talk with your faculty and/or with us in the Writing Center. You might have things like conference proceedings if there were papers presented at conferences relevant to the topic you're doing, you know, to a limited extent you might incorporate other dissertations, that sort of thing. But the majority, again, are going to be scholarly, peer‑reviewed journal articles.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature Review’s Purpose & Goals

Teach readers about your topic and focus (including background info)

State of the field


Current ideas

Major studies

  • Practical headings

Keywords from study title and problem statement


                         Present full picture of topic

Studies supporting your focus

Studies opposing your focus

Saturation point

Numbers of sources will vary

All of this demonstrates your credibility as a researcher and author

Audio: Now, the purpose and goals of a literature review, again, are to, you know, overarchingly demonstrate your credibility as a researcher and as the author of your work. But then, within that, you are also teaching your readers about your topic and focus, bringing them up to the gap in the literature that your research is meant to fill, so you're showing the state of your field, the history of the ideas that you are focusing on, you know, the current state of those ideas, major studies that have been conducted in the area that you're looking into.

All of that needs to be arranged around practical headings. And by that, I mean the headings that you use within the literature review, the subheadings should identify topic that if you put them in a table of contents, it would create a meaningful outline of all the things that you cover. Those headings often are going to contain key words that are also in your study title and your problem statement. So, looking at your problem statement can be a great way to start thinking about what are some of the key words and key topics that I am going to be exploring in my literature review? Often those will be in the problem statement that you have written.

You are also going to be presenting a full picture of your topic, as full as it needs to be to be meaningful background to your specific work. So, you want studies not only supporting your focus or your approach, but some also presenting an opposing point of view. And you're collecting literature and this is a tricky thing to talk about, because, you know, often there is no magic number of sources when you're going to have enough material. You're trying to reach typically what we call a saturation point, which is where you are going to the literature, doing your research, and you are reading the same ideas coming up again and again; you're not really finding anything new. When you're not finding anything new, we say that you've reached the saturation point. And unfortunately, the numbers are just going to vary depending on, you know, how deep and rich the basis of literature is on your topic.


Visual: Slide changes to the following:

  • Locate literature
  • Read and take notes
  • Organize notes into sections
  • Synthesize and understand sources well enough to teach them
  • Write/revise the literature review essay

Audio: Now, the literature review process of researching and writing is very circulative or what we call irritative or repetitive, and this graphic just illustrates that to kind of reinforce that point. So, it starts with identifying your topic, locating the literature, reading and taking notes, organizing your notes into sections and we'll talk a little bit more about some ways to do that that can help you with the writing process in a moment. Then making sure that you have synthesized those sources in your mind and that you understand them well enough to teach them to someone else, which is ultimately what you're doing in the literature review. You know, and then that informs your writing process. And then you're revising. And then typically, as this is going from review to your faculty, as you're encountering more literature, as you're thinking about your topic, going through various drafts, this process begins again, as you need to locate more literature to maybe fill in those areas that might be missing or that you need to develop in more depth.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Content: Show the tip of the iceberg

  • What you write
  • What you read

Audio: So, another graphic, just demonstrating that what you actually write, what makes it to the surface in your literature review is only a small fraction of everything that you've read. You can't comprehensively report everything that you've read per the literature review or you're going to have something monstrously long that you don't want to write or revise. What you want is only those things that are really most relevant to your specific work, containing only those details that are relevant.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Locating & Keeping Track of Literature

  • Search options

Broad search, then narrow

Develop key search terms

Multiple databases

  • Publication types

Journal articles

  • Develop a system

Organizing software (Zotero, NVivo)

Analog or digital, choose what you will use consistently

Audio: Okay. So, for locating and keeping track of literature, I can talk about that in general terms. Again, the Walden library is the best resource for if you have questions about searching the literature or organizing your citations using, I believe they have resources on Zotero, which is citation software. I would recommend contacting the library. But I can speak generally. Typically, you start your search for literature broad and then get narrower as your topic comes further into focus. And, you know, in that process, you're developing your key search terms, using multiple databases. And, again, the library is going to be the best resource for specific information on going about that. Again, journal articles are going to be the bulk of what you're looking at, but you may also be bringing in some books or dissertations, and there's a link here to Walden dissertations, which can also be helpful for seeing examples of the way in which the capstone writing is approached. So, I'd recommend following that here. I know you can also find links to award‑winning dissertations, doctoral studies which can all be helpful in seeing successful writing on topics similar to your own.

And then you want to develop a system for keeping your literature gathered and organizing your citations so all that's ready for your documents. Reference list and internal citations. And there's software for that purpose for citations called Zotero, and that's linked here. I believe the library offers some resources on using that. I can't speak specifically unfortunately to other citation software. We aren't trained on the Writing Center specifically and I don't have a lot of detailed experience with the specific software, so I definitely defer to the library and others for more detailed guidance.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Locating Literature: Common Errors

  • Relying on sources that are not peer reviewed (e.g., personal communications)
  • Citing unreliable websites for definitions
  • (e.g., Wikipedia;
  • Citing only textbooks (not journal articles) for methods (e.g., Creswell)
  • Relying on secondary sources:
  • Yadir (as cited in Ingebretsen, 2013)

Audio: All right. And some common errors in locating and using the literature. I include these. You know, not relying primarily on peer‑reviewed sources, you know, is one issue. And typically, your program, again, will indicate how much of that material that you're citing needs to be scholarly peer‑reviewed journal articles. Citing unreliable or informal sources, things like Wikipedia, nonacademic, general interest websites, that sort of thing for definitions or other information. In discussing methodology, in providing literature on methodology, citing only things like your course textbooks rather than citing journal articles that discuss similar method logical concerns related to yours, that's another thing we see that typically is discouraged. Or relying primarily on secondary sources can be another problem. And there's an example of what a secondary source citation looks like in Walden. You can use secondary source citations, but typically we say to refer to ‑‑ to directly obtain and then read yourself the original source, unless that source is inaccessible for some reason, you know, out of print or you can't obtain it for some reason, or you're citing someone's analysis of something else explicitly. Otherwise, you really want to go to the initial source yourself and read it yourself, and that's going to have the most credibility.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Organizing Ideas

Literature Review Matrix

Audio: Now, to the question of how to organize all of this material, is something called a literature review matrix, which you might have seen ‑‑ I know we covered this a lot at residency presentations, if you've been to those, where we talk about the literature review. A matrix can be extremely useful. And I won't talk about that in a lot of detail here. This image shows what one matrix might look like. This is one in Microsoft Word. If you want a more powerful way of organizing your information, you might use a spreadsheet, Microsoft Excel. With the link that's on this slide, you can go to our literature review matrix page and download either a Microsoft Word or Microsoft Compel matrix that you can use and enter information in customized, et cetera, to meet your own needs. And what I like about a matrix is it allows you to, you know, put, again, this graphic here, probably because this is easier to look at on a slide, is the Microsoft Word more simple table matrix. But it shows how you could start making connections between sources by you're listing your author and citation information over on the left, but then breaking details from that source into columns, so you're putting down some information for each source about the theoretical and conceptual framework. And then it becomes easy to see that if you needed to write about some aspect about your own theoretical and conceptual framework and you wanted to see works that did something similar or working with similar paradigms or material, you can look down that column in what might become a very long document and more easily identify and remember what some of those sources were. So, there's lots of things you can do with a matrix. I unfortunately can't go into a whole lot more detail about it, but would definitely encourage you, if you're not already using one, to go and check out our page linked here and try out some of those formats.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Organize by Theme, Not Source:

  • Research Notes:

Author A (2011): single mothers, working parents, wage gaps

Author B (2013): childcare cost increases, demographics at daycare

Author C (2010): parent-child relationships, role of caregivers

  • Thematic Outline:

Financial cost to single parenting: Author A and Author B

Socioeconomic status and parenting styles: Author B and Author C

Working and raising children: Author A and Author C

Audio: Okay. And one thing to think about, as you're starting to compile your literature review, is that ‑‑ and this gets into that synthesis idea you want to be organizing by topic or theme, not by source. Again, you don't want to be doing stacked summaries where you're summarizing author A and then summarizing author B and then summarizing author C. Instead, you want to see, you know, where do authors A, B, and C talk about some of the same things, what are those things, what are those topics, and then you organize by topic in the way that is most related to the specific needs that you have for your own topic, your own discussion.

So, in the illustration here, you might see in your notes that author A talked about single mothers, working parents, and wage gaps. Author B talked about child care costs, day care demographics, and author C talked about parent‑child relationships and roles of care givers. Rather than having like, you know, a paragraph on each author, you might look at, you know, what are the topics they're talking about, how do those go into an outline. So, you might have, then, part of your discussion devoted to the financial costs of single parenting, and author A and author B might have things to contribute within that discussion. And then go into socioeconomic status and parenting styles of author B and C, who have things to contribute on that point, and so forth.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Sample Organization from Headings

(in a study of how managers in a for-profit organization can encourage community among coworkers using “the Mountbatton approach”)

Literature Search Strategy

Community in the Workplace

  • Benefits of Community in the Workplace
  • Community Among Coworkers
  • Community Among Employees and Supervisors
  • Barriers to Community in For-Profit Settings

For-Profit Leadership Styles

  • Management Strategies and Building Community
  • Grass-roots versus Top-down
  • Democratic versus Commanding

The Mountbatton Approach

  • Mountbatton and Employee Engagement
  • Successful Applications of the Mountbatton Approach

Previous Methods for Studying Management and Community Building

  • This section addresses how some earlier researchers on this topic approached the issue and designed their studies


Audio: Okay. And so, again, the headings you have within your literature review, typically if you pull them out, which you will in your table of contents, they should provide a logical and pretty clear outline of the content of your literature review. And by the same token, you know what your outline material is going to be in your literature review you often have the headings, and I won't read all of this, but this slide shows one way in which that might play out. You know, in a study the manager of an organization can encourage community among coworkers using the . . .


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Writing the Literature Review

  • Critical essay
  • (introduction, body, conclusion)

Connect source details to heading:

How do these sources teach readers about this part of yourtopic?

Include only source details relevant to your study:

Which details do readers need to know?

Conclude with

Summary of key points

Connections of key points and your study

Transition to next section

Acknowledge and refute counterarguments:

Which studies oppose yours?

How are supporting studies stronger?

Audio: All right. So, one way to think to of a literature review is that the entire literature review, if you’re thinking of your literature review sections or literature review chapter, depending on what kind of capstone you're writing, the whole thing is like a critical essay in the sense that it has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. But then the components of it, and to some extent even the paragraphs within it. But certainly, the subsections within it also are structured like a critical essay. So, each of those subsections should also have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. It doesn't need to be marked out that way with headings of course, but they should be structured that way so that it flows in a meaningful way and is satisfying and engaging to read. And so, you know, using your, excuse me, thinking about it that way, I think, can help to kind of segment the writing task and make sure that each piece of that literature review is internally consistent. And in doing that, you want to make sure that you're pulling out only those most relevant information from each source, not going into too much detail, just enough so that everything is relevant within the discussion, and including enough transitions and synthesis to create, you know, a really full and well‑fleshed out picture of your topic.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Revision Strategies and Writing Resources

Stay organized and be systematic, with your reading and your writing!

Audio: All right. And an important step, then, once you have begun drafting this material, a step that has also irritative is the revision tasks. That happens really throughout the writing process, and it helps to have a plan to be systematic with that so that it doesn't become, you know, onerous and overwhelming, frankly.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Revising the Literature Review

Make a plan, stick to a schedule

  • Writing is an iterative process, and so is revising
  • Revision may not be linear (when to proofread versus when to rewrite or reorganize)

Break it down into parts

  • Don’t try to do everything at once
  • Try revising shorter sections at a time
  • Focus on one or two things when revising the whole literature review

Audio: So, we say, to the extent that you can, make a plan that itself can be revised to meet your needs. Try to schedule in revision time for yourself specifically, rather than just scheduling writing time for yourself. And we talk about this, if you visit some of our other webinars specifically, about writing and proofreading and revising. I would strongly encourage anyone to break down revision and proofreading into specific tasks or parts, rather than trying to do everything at once when it comes time to revise and proofread your material. I know I've been a professional editor for a shamefully long time, going on, oh, my goodness ‑‑ like, before I know it, it will be 20 years. And I cannot for the life of me do content revision and detailed fine‑tooth comb proof reading at the same time. My brain just simply will not do that. It refuses to do that. And I think that's true of most people. We say, you know, try revising with specific things in mind, specific kind of feedback that you're responding to, specific kinds of patterns that you want to connect, specific things that you're looking for, rather than trying to address everything at once. And I think it does help to separate fine‑tooth comb proofreading from larger topic‑driven revising.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Revising the Literature Review

Reverse outline using the MEAL plan

  • Diagnose where you have missing topic sentences or paragraphs without main ideas
  • Show the reader your train of thought by adding analysis and transitions

Experiment with organization

  • Don’t be afraid to adjust your headings and subheadings
  • Sometimes moving content around is more effective than adding new stuff

Audio: One thing to think about doing, especially if you're getting feedback that you need better flow in your literature review, the topics are feeling disconnected or things aren't being fully fleshed out, there's not enough synthesis, is to try doing something we call reverse outlining, using that MEAL plan I showed earlier, and that means going into your literature review paragraphs and often taking different highlighter or some ways that you want to ‑‑ you know, whether you're doing it electronically or by hand, and, you know, making sure you can mark the MEAL, the main idea, evidence, analysis, lead‑out in each paragraph, and then you can see if something is missing here, and it gives you an idea of what you might need to write to make that a cohesive paragraph structure.

Now, of course, not every paragraph has to have all the elements of MEAL. There's no solid law, you know, that that needs to be the case, of course. But I think it is a really useful structure, especially when writing about the literature, to just, as a way of making sure that you've really created something that's going to flow. You might also, then, too, you know, if there is a main idea in each paragraph, you can start pulling those out or looking at those in sequence to make sure that the main idea of each paragraph leads naturally into the main idea of the next paragraph, and that can help you see where you might need to create transitions, reorder things, add more material, and so forth. And that goes along with, you know, not being afraid to experiment with organization a little bit. You know, look at your headings and sub headings as an outline and think about whether everything makes sense where it is. And, of course, sometimes moving content around is more effective than creating brand new content.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Resources:

Form and Style Website

Audio: So, we are coming toward the end of the presentation, so I just want to show a couple more slides here, and then we'll see if there's any questions I can answer. I just wanted to highlight a few resources that should be useful to you in writing the literature review and throughout the capstone writing process. The first is the website for the group that I work in. Again, the form and style editors at Walden within the Writing Center. We have our own website within the Writing Center, and that's highlighted here. And we have all sorts of great information there, from the templates that you need to be writing your document in, for all the formatting, bells and whistles to work, to our form and style checklist, which is all the things we're going to be looking at during the form and style review, which can be helpful to think about as you're writing and revising, and many, many other resources. So, I definitely recommend bookmarking that page and visiting us often.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Resources:

Doctoral Capstone Webinar Series from the Writing Center

Doctoral Capstone Writing Workshops from the Academic Skills Center

Doctoral Capstone Resources website for resources across Walden centers

Audio: A few other things, among many resources at Walden that I would highlight today, are the doctoral capstone webinar series of which this is just one. We have webinars on most of the major components of the cap stones at Walden. So, I would recommend watching those in our archive or signing up for them live. We have doctoral capstone writing workshops throughout the academic skills center, focusing on the major parts of the capstone. Those are fee‑based, but it's a lower fee than most courses at Walden. And then there is a doctoral capstone resources website, another great thing to bookmark, that compiles resources not just at the Writing Center but at the library, the research office, and so forth, to put everything in kind of one central doctoral capstone had you been, and I find that really useful.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Questions: Ask Now or Later •  Editor Office Hours

Learn More:

Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography Basics

Refine your style with webinars from the Scholarly Writing series

Audio: So, we have just a few minutes left. If there are any questions I can answer, I'd be happy to.
Vania: Yeah, there's ‑‑ so one of the questions is, for the end, if you could take a second. I've actually got two that I want us to really make sure we get to. And the first one is ‑‑ actually, I'm going to do the second one first, and then the first one. So, it’s really the first and second. Whatever. How to reach editors, because I'm not going to be able to answer all these questions. So some people are going to leave not having had their questions answered. So, I'm going to put right now our e‑mail address into the chat box. But there's also our chat. Form & Style web page.  If you go to our form and style web page, which I showed you in the slides, you can talk to an editor live with your questions. These are all amazing questions. So, feel free to contact us live. That’s one way to get to us. And also, I wanted to mention that chapter edits, if your chair thinks that your writing is impeding your progress, your chair can request a chapter edit. That is the one way you can get an edit from a dissertation editor prior to the form and style. So, I just wanted to put those things out there. Again, I'll put the editor e‑mail in the chat box.

The other question was, can students have sentences and citations that begin and end the paragraph.

Carey: I know there are certain guidelines people teaching writing classes or faculty. And sometimes that's being done to make sure that, you know, your writing is flowing as correctly as possible. I know some of the rubrics and so on and some of the programs are more prescriptive or specific about the ways in which that needs to go. There is no rule that you can't have the citation in the topic sentence or the lead‑out sentence. I think sometimes it is discouraged because, you know, the idea is that you want to be engaging in as much original thought as you can, you know, in the sentences. So, you know, perhaps within that model, and especially if you're being given that guidance, by all means, follow the guidance, follow the rules of your program and your faculty. And often with the topic sentence, typically I would not have a citation there because I think it helps to make sure that, you know, your topic sentences should reflect your own original thinking. So that's one way to do that. Now, of course if there's no citation, it has to be your original thinking and language. But I hope that answers that question.

And, yeah, by all means, if we do not get to your questions today, please write to us at, you'll get an answer in one business from someone in the group that I work on. Or visit us at editor office hours, which is a live chat services, I k now I staff that at least once a week. We have posted specific hours. We have at least one shift each day of a couple of hours. And that's a way for us to interact one‑on‑one. It's meant as a brief Q and A. We can't do document review or anything in that context, but we can answer questions. And if you have a question about that chapter edit service, that is a faculty (inaudible) service, so we can't offer that directly to the students, but you can ask us about it at, but your chair is the one who would apply on your behalf.

Beth: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Carey. Any last thought or anything to end us for the day before we close out this session?

No. Just thank you, everyone, for coming. And sorry if you didn't get a specific question answered, but I'm glad it was such an active group and I hope you come back to another webinar.

Beth: Yeah. And, Vania, you were so quick in the background you were just so quick in answering so many of the student questions. Thank you to you as well. We'll go ahead and close for the day since we're at the top of the hour. So, thank you, Carey, and thank you, Vania, and thank you everyone. Have a great day, everyone. Happy writing.


(End of webinar.)