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Webinar Transcripts:
Reviewing the Literature and Incorporating Previous Research

Transcripts for the Writing Center's webinars.

Reviewing the Literature and Incorporating Previous Research


Presented June 24, 2020

View the recording

Last updated July 1, 2020


Visual: Opening slide is titled Housekeeping

  • Recording: Will be available online within 24 hours.
  • Interact: Polls, files, and links are interactive.
  • Q&A
  • Help
    • Ask in the Q&A box.
    • Choose “Help” in the upper right-hand corner of the webinar room.

Audio: [Beth] Alright, well, welcome everyone. It is wonderful to have you here. As I just said my name is Beth Nastachowski. I'm on the staff of Walden Writing Center and I'm going to be facilitating today's session. I will do housekeeping before handing it over to Carey, our presenter today. 

A couple of things to go over first. The first is I've started the recording for the session which will be online and available within 24 hours, so if you have to leave for any reason or you would like to come back and review the session, you're more than welcome to do so. 

We also encourage you to interact with us today, so I know Carey has some polls she's put together that she’ll have throughout the session and we encourage you to respond. There are also links to further information and resources throughout the housekeeping throughout our slides here not just the housekeeping slides but throughout all of them and those links are active. If you want to click on those, they will open a new tab on your browser. You can also save the slides in the files pod to your computer so you can access those links at a later time. Those slides are in the files pod in the bottom right-hand corner. 

I encourage you to ask questions throughout the session. Myself and my colleague Meghan, we will monitor that Q&A box and we are happy to answer any questions or comments you have throughout the session as well so let us know how we can support you.

But also note that after the session, if you think of questions later or have anything that we weren’t able to address in the session itself, you are welcome to email the editors at or visit the live office hours that the editors have as well. 

Finally, if you have any technical issues please let me know in that Q&A box. I'm happy to answer any questions there and have a couple tips and tricks I can give you so let me know how I can help in that Q&A box with any technical issues as well.


Visual: Slide changes to the title of the webinar: Reviewing the Literature and Incorporating Previous Research and includes the presenter’s name, picture, and role: Carey Little Brown, Form & Style Editor, Office of Academic Editing, Walden University Writing Center

Audio: [Beth] Alright, with that I will hands over to Carey.

[Carey] Thanks so much Beth and thank all of you for coming today to listen to this presentation. I know this is one of my favorites to present and it is one of the ones that we get the most views of because I think reviewing the literature is one of those tasks in the capstone writing process that's probably the most challenging given the amount of material that you are trying to integrate into your work. And the complexity and evolving nature of that process. So, I hope that this presentation leaves you with some practical tips and tricks and ideas going forward and helps you go towards your goals.

I'm Carey Little Brown and I am one of the Form and Style Editors in the Walden Writing Center. If you are not familiar with the Form and Style review, that is a supportive review that every doctoral capstone goes through near the end of the capstone process before the oral conference. And after one of the final URR reviews, where we look at the whole document for overall clarity, grammar, lots of mechanical things, formatting, APA, and give you feedback to guide your final revisions so you have a really top-notch publishable documents ready to go to ProQuest at the end of the process. That is what I've been doing.

I've been with Walden since 2012 and do contact my group if you have any questions about this issue or session as you think about it in the days to come.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Webinar Objectives

  • Understand the purpose and goals of a literature review in a doctoral study or dissertation 
  • Identify resources for managing and organizing information for the literature review
  • Discuss strategies for paraphrasing and synthesizing the literature
  • Explore strategies for organizing and revising the literature review
  • Become familiar with resources for capstone writers at Walden

Audio: [Carey] Let's get going. As I said this webinar is really meant to provide some practical ideas and help to guide that literature review writing process. And so, the objectives are as follows: to think about and understand the purpose and the goals of the literature review. What is it there to accomplish? I think that kind of grounding can help in thinking about how to structure that in a project.

We will talk about resources for managing and organizing information in the literature review. We will talk about, in detail but some concrete examples, paraphrasing and synthesizing the literature and the ways in which doing that effectively really determines how effective your overall literature review is.

We'll talk about strategies for organizing and revising the literature review, and then we will wrap up with a Q&A and some discussion of resources that may be particularly useful to you in the writing process of the literature review at Walden.

If you have any questions as we go along, as Beth said, feel free to put those in the Q&A box. My colleague Meghan Irving is here in the background answering questions. She is also one of the Form and Style editors, so please let us know if there's anything you would like us to clarify or expand on.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Poll #1: 

  • What is your current stage in the doctoral capstone writing process?
    • Still in coursework
    • Writing the prospectus
    • Writing the proposal chapters or sections
    • Writing the final study chapters or sections
    • Almost complete, final capstone approval stages (e.g. Form & Style, CAO)


[Carey] To get going I find that it really helps me to know who is in the audience. Beth is going to launch a poll that asks to get an idea of what your current stage is in the doctoral capstone writing process. Are you still taking coursework? Working on that prospectus document? Are you writing the proposal chapters or sections? Or wrapping up the final study? Or are you almost done and working on those really final stages? So, we will give that a few minutes to give you a chance to enter some answers there. [Carey pauses while students respond to the poll.]

It's looking like, as I would expect, most people are working on the proposal. Which chapter or section that is of course varies by the specific capstone documents but that is the part that includes the literature review so that would make sense. A good group of you are also writing the prospectus and so this should be very helpful for you as well. You will be working on some basic ideas within the prospectus that will be obviously instrumental in filling out that literature review later and a few people are still in coursework.

And Beth you can close that whenever you think you have gotten all the answers. Thank you for letting me know that lets me get a good idea of who the audience is and what will be most relevant to you


Visual: Slide changes to a title slide for the first section of the webinar: Purpose & Goals of the Literature Review

Audio: [Carey] We will start with just a quick overview the purpose and goals of the literature review.


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

  • At the doctoral level, students cite literature to
    • provide background and context,
    • appeal to scholarly authority,
    • verify and justify assertions,
    • address a broader audience, and
    • establish subject-matter expertise and credibility as academic writers.

Audio: [Carey] There are several things that students do or student writers do at the doctoral level with literature in the capstone and the functions that serves. So, of course, some of these are obvious and some perhaps less obvious. The literature serves to provide background and context; I think that is what we think of most readily. You provide that background to situate your study in the history of the field. It is also an appeal to scholarly authority showing that you have done the work to find the scholarly work in your field and convincing others that your work is reliable because you are calling upon those things to support the statements you are making.

In extension of that, you are verifying and justifying the assertions you are making when citing the literature in your work. In doing those things are also addressing that broader academic audience by situating the work in the context of your field and part of the larger academic discussion.

The last function of the literature review in the dissertation or doctoral study specifically again is really establishing that you have done the work to establish that subject matter expertise so that people come into your document perceive you as credible as an authority in that area, and I think it also, in that your dissertation or doctoral study is the evidence of your doctoral work out in the world on ProQuest, published for people to see. And it establishes your credibility in a broad way as an academic.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: The Literature Review

  • Involves collection and analysis of materials on a topic, with attention to currency and credibility of sources 
  • Presents what is known about the topic, leading reader to what is not known (gap in existing literaturethat the study fills)

Audio: [Carey] And what is the literature review? The literature review is both sort of the act or the act creating a literature review is the act of collecting relevant literature and importantly analyzing that literature so it is collection and analysis of those literature materials on a given topic. We like to say that one detail about that is that there is attention in the literature review to the currency and credibility of the sources. We will talk about the kinds of sources that go into the literature review specifically and why that underscores the currency and credibility aspect of that literature.

Essentially it presents what is known about the topic and it should lead ideally up to what is not known about that topic, and that is going to be that gap in existing literature that you have probably heard repeated many times, that your study is filling are going to fill.


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

  • Teach readers about the study topic (including background info)
    • State of the field
    • Background/history
    • Foundational studies
    • Current ideas & debates
    • Recent research à
    • Gap in literature addressed by the study
  • Present full picture of topic
    • Studies supporting your focus
    • Studies opposing your focus
    • Goal is saturation (number of sources varies)

Audio: [Carey] So there is a sort of dual-purpose or dual set of purpose and goals in the literature review in presenting this literature. First is instructional. You are teaching the readers about your study topics so they understand where your work is situated in the field, so you are presenting the state of the field, the background and history. Foundational keys, seminal studies in your area. A summary of current ideas and debates should be emerging from your literature review so that people get a sense of the overall conversation happening in that field. Any recent studies done and within the literature that you review as we will discuss later there is a focus on really presenting the most recent scholarship in that area so that you are indicating that your work is fully up-to-date and contributing up to the present moment and typically the window of the research that you should focus on varies a bit by program. It is generally in the most recent 3-5 years and all of that again all of that background information leads up to that gap in literature that your study is positioned to fill.

You are also trying to present a full picture of your topic. When we say that there should be some kind of fully fleshed out nature of the way you are presenting it. It should have balance so you are presenting studies that support your statements and focus as well as some that oppose that focus. Again, drawing out that idea of the kind of conversation or debate that is happening in the area that you are now contributing to. 

The goal in establishing all of this literature and gathering all of this is to demonstrate that you have reached saturation. You probably heard that term too in your coursework, talking about the point at which, it is sort of a slippery thing to define and there is always questions about how do I know when I've reached that saturation point in reviewing the literature gathering sources? And there is not a super easy answer to that of course but the most straightforward thing to say is it is the point at which you are not really generating new information, new themes, new important ideas from the work that you are reviewing, when the same things are coming up over and over. And the number of sources that involves is really going to vary by fields.

But that is the goal, is to reach that point where you are not generating a lot of radically new information as you look at new sources.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature Review Process

  • Locate literature
  • Read and take notes
  • Organize notes (matrix)
  • Synthesize and understand sources well enough to teach them
  • Write/revise the literature review

Audio: [Carey] We often talk the literature review process as being circular or iterative. Those of you already writing the literature review, you have probably discovered this or are experiencing this right now. It is a cycle that starts with, in the library, doing your research, locating the literature and reading and taking notes and an important step we will talk about in detail is organizing those notes, and I will talk about how you can use a matrix, if you are not already doing so, to make that really effective and set you up to be really well-prepared to write a well synthesized literature review because the next step then is synthesis. Showing that you understand the sources well enough you can teach them to another person which is on a practical level what you are doing in presenting the literature in your literature review.

And then we say and that goes into one you have established that kind of mental understanding of the literature, you’re writing that synthesis out and you go through various processes of revision and typically you are getting feedback indicating things you need to expand or contract in the lit review and you are realizing yourself  that you want to investigate more things pertinent to your topic that are coming up in the sources and then you are back there at the beginning and it will continue until network is complete.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Poll #2: 

  • Which aspect of writing a literature review seems most challenging?
    • Organizing the material
    • Paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism
    • Writing clearly and concisely
    • Dealing with faculty feedback/revising
    • Something else (feel free to explain in the chat!)

Audio: [Carey] We will launch a poll in a moment about which aspects of the literature review seem most challenging to you, whether looking at that process or going into it. We will do that now. I have put a few ideas here of the kinds of things that we see people really struggling with or asking questions about. If you have something else that is your particular challenge that you would like to share, you’re welcome to do so in the chat box that popped up. That could be interesting to see, but this question is just asking which aspect of the literature review writing process seem most challenging to you? Which do you struggle with the most or think that you might struggle with the most when you get into that part of your writing? And I will give that a bit longer to give you a chance. [Carey pauses to allow attendees to respond.]

I'm seeing a lot of people saying that organizing the material is most daunting. Personally, that is one of the things I find most difficult is that sort of macro process of putting that together and we will address that definitely in this presentation. Quite a few people say paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism is a significant issue. I see 11% of you saying dealing with faculty feedback and revision process is challenging and I know it is. This is the longest writing process that a lot of people have pursued at this point. Some people have already written work of this length by the time they are writing the doctoral capstone, but for a lot of us, this is the first time we have written something of this length with these many reviewers and feedback. And it is challenging. 

I see other comments coming in. Some things about the literature search, knowing when to stop looking for articles, and we will talk a bit about some library resources we can direct you to that might be helpful. Making sure that you are avoiding unintentional plagiarism. This is an interesting comment about knowing how far to go down the rabbit hole on each of your subtopics. And hopefully we will address all of these things. If you find that you have any unanswered questions after the session feel free to contact us.

I see some comments about frustration about the approval process and reviews. Thank you everyone for sharing I think we're going to close out the poll. And as we go along if you have any questions, feel free to put those in the Q&A box. I told Beth and Meghan to feel free to interrupt me at any point if there's anything I could clarify or explain or answer. And actually, in that vein Beth or Meghan is there anything, I cannot see the Q&A box right now, is there anything I should address before we go forward?

[Beth] You know, Carey, oh, go ahead Meghan.

[Meghan] I'm not seeing anything too much, so unless Beth you caught something that you would like to have addressed, I think we are all right.

[Beth] Yes same, all the questions thus far seem very specific but we will keep an eye out.


Visual: Slide changes to a title slide for the second section of the webinar: Managing & Organizing Information for the Literature Review

Audio: [Carey] Thanks so much. I saw that the top answer in that poll, thank you for answering that, was about organizing the literature review. This first section in this part of the presentation will address that in some detail and hopefully will leave you with some ideas.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Locating Relevant Literature

Audio: [Carey] The majority of the sources in your literature review, and this is not news to most of you, because you've probably heard this repeated again, emphatically and often, are recently scholarly and peer-reviewed journal articles which means that they have gone through that formal process of peer review. They are printed in academic journals using the academic discourse. 

The percentage of your -- we often get a question about which percentage is it of peer-reviewed journal articles published within the last five years -- do I need to use with my literature review? That kind of requirement is articulated by your program, so I would check with your program documents and rubrics. If you have questions about that or consult with your chair about where to find that information. That will vary but the vast majority of the work you will be citing in the doctoral capstone is going to be those scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles. 

There are of course other sources that are brought into the dissertation and that can be relevant and useful when you’re developing your theoretical and conceptual framework that is often seminal foundational works that may be quite a bit older than that. Books other publications and those are typically fine to cite. Again, your chair could help clarify what sort of literature is and is not appropriate. To a limited extent, there's different kinds of reports, other dissertations or doctoral studies. Other kinds of literature may be different online resources but the majority will be those recent scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles. 

We cannot provide in this session a lot of information to guide your literature search because we want to give that to the librarians who will be the most qualified to help you and with that in mind there are links here on this slide that you could link after the session if you download the slides, which I encourage you to do to have these resources. Links to resources at the Walden library that are especially helpful in the lit review process. The librarians are great about making themselves available in a lot of different formats to really try to reach out to as many students as they can so there is a link here to that ask a librarian page which gives you all the different ways to contact them with your questions about your search. They have lots of resources on their website like tutorials and webinars that are linked here. They have information on citation management software that we are not trained in the Writing Center to support but they do have training in the library. They can give you more information about things like Zotero to manage citations and do some APA formatting in a more automated way. There are also some webinars you may want to look at of theirs.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Managing Information

  • Avoid accidental plagiarism:
    • Keep copies of original sources (physical or electronic).
    • Include citations (author, year, p. #) next to evidence you pull from sources. Mark direct quotes with quotation marks.
  • Use a Literature Review Matrix!

Audio: [Carey] In the Writing Center we do more of helping to manage information and notes to move toward or scaffold that writing process and so that is what we will talk about in more detail now. One important point that seems obvious but I think is a good thing to remember is that there is I think a lot of us struggle with trying to avoid plagiarism and I think in the majority of things that I've seen in a very long time on editing dissertations and doctoral studies and in my I think eight years at Walden is a lot of people end up with issues with their literature review being a bit too close to the source material. In the vast majority of cases I don't think that is intentional. I think a lot of it is information or data management issues having to do with sometimes frankly in your notes it is unclear which things, which of this is my own language and which of the sentences I've written here is straight out of the source. 

So, a couple of things to think about this is a practical measure to protect yourself against accidentally using too much original language out the sources to keep copies of your original sources. I know, I keep, I just save a PDF into my files of everything I use in any kind of academic work I do or if you like to print those out and have them physically. 

And then in your notes importantly use quotation marks around anything that you are writing down that is taken directly from the source Word for Word and put citations next to those and it will make your work a lot easier and helps to protect you against inadvertently taking something longer than a multi-word phrase or sentence that really needs to be credited to a source for its language. It will prevent you from taking that as your own without realizing it.

Another really important tool I mentioned near the beginning that we want to dig into a bit for those of you might not already be using it or who want new ideas for using it is a literature review matrix and I know and a lot of the courses that Walden may have done, worked on a matrix that may be helpful to you now. We have some general matrix templates and that is basically a way to organize your notes as you go through your sources and you can customize it to really make it as detailed as you want to. And as functional in different ways as you want to suit your own needs. A matrix will help you make connections across sources as you organize the literature review. So, we will look at examples in a moment of what that might look like. And those are available on the Writing Center website and we have templates, we have examples that you can see what one looks like filled out which is what we are going to look at now. We also have blank templates you can use and customize in Word or Excel. And we will look at that now.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature Review Matrix—MS Word

  • Choose a format that works for you!
  • Customize the matrix with fields/topics to meet your needs
  • [Image of a sample literature matrix created using Microsoft Word.]

Audio: [Carey] This is the literature review matrix in Microsoft Word just the sample we have up on your website to give you an idea what you can do and the template sort of similar to this. It is just a table but in word there's going to be a smaller number of columns but it is a way to pull out those major elements of each article that you read for each source you read so you can start looking for a commonality across sources. And of course, just using table tools you can add or delete columns, change the categories. This one has things like your citation information just author and date here. The theoretical and conceptual framework so if you needed to find all of the sources that are using the same theory that you are when talking about that theory in your literature review you could go through this table and easily do that. There is a column for methodology and so forth so you can get an idea of how this might be useful in drawing connections across sources.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Literature Review Matrix—MS Excel

  • Using an Excel spreadsheet, it is possible to include many fields
  • If codes are used, data may be sorted to find commonalities across sources 
  • [Screenshot of a literature matrix in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The columns are labeled with headings such as Publication Date and Author. The rows are blank; the user would enter data from one source from the literature in each row. There are many more columns in this Microsoft Excel matrix than in the previous Microsoft Word matrix.]

Audio: [Carey] Excel being a spreadsheet is a lot more powerful for organizing data. I will be completely honest; I am a writer editor type person so I'm a lot more comfortable in Word but I've always promised myself I will become more proficient in Excel because truly for a task like organizing a really large much of data and literature it can be really helpful and a powerful mechanism for searching out terms and sorting things to put like things together. And there is an example in our website when you go to that link for the matrix of how someone had used two letter codes to mark things like theoretical constructs or something that they wanted to find in every work it occurred in and that will let them sort the data using tools in Excel to rearrange the information automatically. So, this can be a pretty powerful tool for finding those commonalities across sources.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: From Matrix to Literature Review

  • An effective literature review … 
    • Draws connections across sources
    • Shows how past literature is relevant to the writer’s own study
    • With a matrix, you can more easily see what your sources have in common: topics, themes, methodology, etc.
  • Connections/commonalities à key to strong synthesis!

Audio: [Carey] An effective literature review really does put your sources in conversation. Draws those connections across them. It also shows how the past literature is relevant to the writer's own study. With a matrix you can more easily see what your sources have in common again by looking down those columns, by sorting if it is a spreadsheet and making those connections is going to be the key to strong synthesis. 


Visual: Slide changes to a title slide for the third section of the webinar: Paraphrasing & Synthesis

Audio: [Carey] That is what we will talk about next. What synthesis really means in the doctoral capstone literature review specifically and how paraphrasing plays a role in making that synthesis more robust.


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: [Carey] You might've seen a slide like this if you've been to our residency presentations or perhaps in your courses if they've had Writing Center material. We often like to talk about distinction between summary and synthesis and I think that is really helpful in thinking about what the goal is in the literature review so when we talk about summary that is going to be typically a source-based sort of discussion. Sort of what you might do in an annotated bibliography. You are giving a brief description of the main ideas within a source typically one source at a time. You’re telling a brief story of each source when writing in summary mode. 

When you are writing and synthesis mode you are connecting sources. It does not go source by source by source typically. It goes sort of idea by idea by idea and it is a more extended explanation of the ideas, trends, themes, theories among multiple sources. So, you are combining multiple sources not to tell the story of those sources, but to tell the story of your topic and that is what you do in literature review. Of course, in the literature review, there are elements of summary that are inevitable if you are talking about the development of a specific theory that is key to your own work; you may talk about the people who originally developed that theory and more of a summary mode. But the overall aim of the work is always going to be synthesis.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Using Language to Show Synthesis

  • Synthesis language
    • Smith (2018) found that X occurred. Likewise, Jean (2020) found that X occurred but also notedthat the effects of X differed from those suggested by Smith (2018).
    • Martinez (2020) reported results consistent with findings in Tan’s (2019) and Deng’s (2018) studies.
    • The approach that Nguyen (2019) took contrasted with Schmit’s (2017) recommendations.

Audio: [Carey] We sometimes talk about something called you may have heard called synthesis language and that sounds more complicated and fancy than what we are trying to get at with that. So, this slide shows really some very simple ways that you can signal synthesis and I mean by that signaling the connections between sources. Signaling the connections between the sources and your own work. The bolded terms on the slide draw out some of the real easy ways that you can use language to pivot between sources and show that you have synthesized those ideas together seeing the relationships between them. 

Looking at the first example here Martinez reported results consistent with findings in the studies. Consistent with signal synthesis because it is showing how Martinez related to this other literature in the body of work. You can also show that you are doing something additive by saying likewise, also noted, you can show contrast with things like differed and contrasted. There are very simple ways you could use transition terms and verbs to indicate the relationship between sources in your work.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Paraphrasing: Key to Effective Synthesis

Audio: [Carey] Paraphrasing is also really the kind of core of effective synthesis. In APA style and I'll be honest about this as well, I grew up and had my formative educational experiences which were a really long time ago now more in the humanities where I, and I like language and words and I like other people's words so I like to use properly cited but quotations. I am fond of quotations, direct quotations with quotation marks. In APA style writing, in social science writing in general, that should be done very sparingly, so I often have to pull myself back from wanting to write in that mode.

And part of that function of that is being brevity and so on but from the perspective of synthesis, paraphrasing things in your own original words really does I think help to make sure that the ideas are well integrated into your own arguments and with other sources you are putting them in relationship with. Of course, it protects you against inadvertent plagiarism if you’re not using quotation marks and so on correctly, but I think as importantly or more importantly it helps to bring those ideas into the overall conversation that you are presenting in your argument. So paraphrasing things in your own words really does help clarify how the information from the literature relates to your own work.

And so again avoiding excessive quotation; it’s almost always better to rephrase things in your own words. But as you do so be sure to credit sources not just for any language you are using with quotation marks and so forth and citations, but also any ideas you are drawing. It's also of course an academic integrity issue if you are preventing ideas from the literature without indicating where those ideas originated from even if you rephrase them. So be sure to use APA compliant citations is important whether you are citing words or ideas and there is a link here to some APA information on our website as well as some webinars that we have if you are wanting to look into paraphrasing in more depth on paraphrasing source information and synthesis and thesis development. If those are things you would like more information on, want to think about in greater depth, check those links out.


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

  • Error à Solution for Analysis and Synthesis
  • Error: Present multiple sources in one paragraph without clear connections à Solution for Analysis and Synthesis: Present clear relationships among sources
  • Error: Force broad, illogical relationships among sources: Most researchers agree… Study X is just like Study Y… à à Solution for Analysis and Synthesis: Establish specific, logical connections among sources: Author X’s (2020) results aligned with Author Y’s (2019) in these ways…
  • Error: Use back-to-back direct quotations à à Solution for Analysis and Synthesis: Use paraphrases and clear analysis to hold ideas together

Audio: [Carey] Synthesis theoretically sounds like an easy thing to do but I know people who are not experienced academic writers it takes a lot of thought and work and revision and so forth. There are some common errors we see at Form and Style. And that we might comment on and ask you to think about. So, I thought I would cover some of those here along with some simple solutions. And we will look at a few examples of what that looks like in practice as I think it can become kind of abstract. I like to ground that and what some real writing might look like.

One error we see a lot is synthesis that is less effective is where people may come student writers will sometimes be aiming to think like I don't want to devote a, one author and one paragraph and another author in the next paragraph and so forth because that is not going to be, that is summary, not synthesis. So, they will put multiple authors in one paragraph but then the error comes up when there are not clear connections between them so the reader would not understand how these things relate to each other, why are they being put next to each other in this paragraph. So of course, the solution is preventing clear relationships among those sources by including your own original analysis and we will look at some examples of what that might look like.

By the same token, I think sometimes people will try to correct for that by forcing relationships between the sources that are not necessarily logical or intuitive and so that can be done by making broad unsupported statements like most researchers agree. In academic writing a statement like that is typically a signal that you want to look deeper and see what kind of statement you can make that does have some literature support and is more specific. Because that is sufficiently broad it may be hard to defend. Restatements like study X is just like study Y, that is unlikely to be the case; that is overly broad. So, when you are correcting for that you are looking for specific logical connections among your sources. You can see some language that may be more effective. 

Another error we see sometimes is back to back direct quotations or quotations dropped in without context and we will look at an example of that, too. You want to be using paraphrasing and clear analysis to hold your ideas together.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Common Error: 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 et al. (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: [Carey] One error we see is what is called stacked summaries and that was the first thing in that table and that is where you are presenting the ideas of different authors without forging connections between them within a paragraph and there is an example here. I won't read this all out but Arnett made an argument that was made about the dominance of American academic journals and what that had done to the field of psychology and then it goes right into Henrick et al. and it was contended that American samples in psychological research were not representative. And then another author advocated further internationalization of psychology. These ideas are related but there are not clear relationships being forged between them. It is one author being presented after the next with a summary of what they said without any analysis to connect them.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Common Error: Freestanding 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: [Carey] Another example of the kind of thing I was talking about on the table are freestanding quotations put in text without any context. That tends to indicate a lack of synthesis. So, in this example, we see this whole sentence is a quotation. It is properly credited; it is not plagiarized and there is a proper citation but there is not any transition leading into it. There is not any context for integrating this contribution from the literature with the person's own work and there is also the question of is it really necessary to use a direct quote here? Could this be paraphrased? This is another example of synthesis which could be improved.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Common Error: 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: [Carey] And by the same token any quotations overreliance on direct quotations that I was confessing to myself. That can really compromise the effectiveness of synthesis which you see in this example where you have got much of this paragraph is composed of direct quotations and it is likely that those direct quotations are not really necessary. There would be a way to paraphrase more effectively and in so doing, indicating the importance to your own work.



Visual: Slide changes to the following: Paragraph Strategy for Better Synthesis: MEAL Plan

  • Main idea
  • Evidence
  • Analysis
  • Lead-out

Audio: [Carey] One strategy I really like and this comes I believe from Duke University originally, we have a lot of information on our website about it that is really helpful in structuring academic paragraph especially when you talk about literature is the acronym MEAL and you may have run into this before. It is a useful tool to use and we will talk a little bit about what that looks like in practical terms. 

The acronym MEAL stands for the elements that you would want in most academic paragraphs and certainly in paragraphs dealing with the literature. A main idea and that is usually your topic sentence. Evidence which is what you are taking from the literature. Analysis which is really the key to the synthesis. Your contribution that’s indicating how those things relate to each other and to your work. And then the lead out and as we’ll see in the example, it serves as a pivot to the next paragraph and I think that's probably the trickiest part of this for people because there is -- I now have to say the end of this paragraph now I will talk about blank -- and that usually is not the most effective way to do a lead out because it's not going to have the kind of flow that you would want in a paragraph. It's a bit awkward. There are other ways to more subtly signal that you are wrapping up one paragraph and moving onto the next and we will look at an example in a moment of one way you might do that.


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 et al. (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: [Carey] Here is a sample paragraph that shows the elements of MEAL in action and we’ll go through this in some detail because I think this is one tool that is helpful for me and especially if you are struggling with synthesis, if you are struggling to add enough context and clarity in your presentation of the literature, this can be a really helpful tool to go into your paragraphs and see, do I have each of these elements here in this paragraph, and if not, what do I need to add?

So, first of all the m, main idea, you want to make sure that each paragraph does cohere around one major topic and that's going to be captured in that main idea sentence and often that will come at the beginning. It does not have to but that is usually the easiest place for it. Here this is: “Over the last decade, there has been active discussion among scholars about the need for greater cultural diversity in the psychological research literature.” That signals what this whole paragraph is doing to be about. 

And then it goes into the evidence. And in this paragraph for purposes of demonstrating this to you, things are shown, the evidence and analysis are shown in separate colors. In reality those are often interspersed, together in the middle of the paragraph. And some of that synthesis language works for analysis too, but here we are seeing: “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.” And then here we have some synthesis language. Maybe this could even be analysis. “Expanding upon this idea, Henrich et al. (2010) contended that American samples in psychological studies, which often consist of undergraduate students, are notably atypical of the human species.” Expanding upon this idea is a simple device but it is linking Arnett’s ideas to Henrich et al.’s ideas and helping fortunate synthesis.

And then the analysis piece here is in the purple italics: “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.”

That is some original analysis that links the ideas together and it kind of alludes to how this is going to relate to the study without having to say anything directly. 

And then the final element here in green with the underlined is the lead out: “The solution to this problem, in part, may involve greater internationalization of the field (van de Vijver, 2013).” This sentence does not say in summary and repeat the paragraph. It is not saying next I will talk about blank, but I think it does provide a subtle way to indicate what is going to be addressed next. Reading this, the reader expects, okay we are going to talk about internationalization and most likely that is with the next paragraph will cover.


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

Audio: [Carey] Synthesis is something that can be explored in a lot more depth than we can do in this presentation and we have a lot of materials on it in the Writing Center. Because it is something that I think a lot of us revisit and struggle with and work on really throughout an academic writing career, so check out some of the other materials if you think that would be helpful. If it is something you find yourself working on. We have videos on paragraphs and the MEAL plan that show some of these examples in more depth and you can link to that here.

There is a webinar called Beyond Summary: Adding Analysis and Synthesis to Your Writing that goes into more depth and draws out that summary synthesis distinction and you can check that out. And we also have a guide to topic sentences that can be helpful if you're trying to make sure each paragraph coheres around a theme.


Visual: Slide changes to a title slide for the fourth section of the webinar: Strategies for Organizing & Revising the Literature Review

Audio: [Carey] From there we will go into some strategies for organizing and revising the literature review. 


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

  • Begin by looking at your Problem Statement:
    • Highlight key concepts or variables
    • Use these words to create the beginning of a literature review outline
    • Topic outline à headings & subheadings in the literature review
  • For details and examples, see our SMRTguide tutorial, Creating a Literature Review Outline

Audio: [Carey] If you are early in the process or not but certainly if you are starting the process of  thinking about writing your literature review, it can be helpful to look at your problem statement to think about what is this literature review going to contain and one technique involves going through your problem statement and highlighting those key concepts or variables, physically, electronically whatever or writing those down. And then using those words or phrases to create the beginning of the literature review outline. Your problem statement is typically going to contains the seeds of the main idea of your literature review within the concepts or variables that you are talking about in that statement. And so those often can be mapped into a skeletal topic outline which you would fill out with more detail, with headings and subheadings that could eventually be translated into the literature review itself. If you are interested in that process or thinking about that in your own work, we have something called a SMRT guide which is a text tutorial – it’s an acronym that some of my colleagues came up with -- on creating a literature review outline which walks through some steps and examples of how you would take a problem statement into a literature review. So, check that out if you think that would be helpful to you.


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

  • Research Notes:
    • Author A (2020): single mothers, working parents, wage gaps
    • Author B (2019): childcare cost increases, demographics at daycare
    • Author C (2018): parent-child relationships, role of caregivers
  • Thematic Outline:
    • Financial cost of 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: [Carey] As you are organizing the literature review you ought to be thinking again about themes not sources because again in synthesis and literature review, we are telling stories about topics. We are not telling stories about sources. So, your research notes are going to be organized by source. So, in this example here we have got notes about what each author talked about. In your writing you would not go through, we would not present it in that order. You want to look at what do these authors have in common? How can I draw out themes from this and then present those themes in a logical way drawing the authors in where each contributes to that theme? You are not taking those notes and then coming up with a thematic outline of those notes. So, you can see from here, both author A and author B talk about the financial cost of single parenting so that may be one subsection and those two authors may be among the ones you are discussing in that section. Author B and C both talk about the interaction between socio- economic status and parenting style which may be another section of your literature review that they come into, and so forth.


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

  • Structure like a critical essay (introduction, body, conclusion)
    • Connect source details to each heading:
      • How do these sources teach readers about this part of your topic?
      • Include only source details relevant to your study:
      • Which details do readers need to know?
    • Acknowledge and refute counterarguments:
      • Which studies oppose yours?
      • How are supporting studies stronger?
    • Conclude with
      • Summary of key points
      • Connections of key points and your study
      • Transition to next section 

Audio: [Carey] As you are filling out the literature  review, once you’ve outlined and so forth and figured out your structure, you are going to be again finding those sources that pertain to each thing of course and then making sure that you connect sufficient source details to each heading. Mainly thinking about how do those sources teach readers about this part of your topic and so you are only including the source details that are relevant to your study. Sometimes people moving from an annotated bibliography where they've gone into detail about all the studies they've read will bring in every detail about that study into the lit review and that typically is not necessary. Which aspects of that study do we need to know about? Which aspects of the way which was conducted? Which aspects of the findings are pertinent to the work you are doing? And so that is one thing to be thinking about as you are working on it as you are revising it, do I have enough information or is it too much?

Just a reminder to acknowledge and refute counter arguments as you go through, thinking about which studies, which studies support your work and which studies don't and why have you judged the supporting studies to be stronger and why are you adopting that point of view? And then you are concluding the literature review in the same way, it's helpful to think of a literature review like a critical essay which essentially it is, a long one, that whole chapter functions like an essay in that it has an introduction, a body where you have structured all of your literature into thematic sections, and then it has a conclusion. So, you would conclude that in the same way that you would an effective paper with a summary of key points. Reinforcing how those key points relate to your own work and the gap identified in the literature and then transition to the next section.


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

  • Make a plan, stick to a schedule; include time for revision!
    • Writing is an iterative process, and so is revising
    • Prepare to adapt your structure as the literature review develops (and in response to feedback)
  • Break revision into manageable, focused tasks.
    • Don’t try to do everything at once!
    • Approach content revision (i.e., revision for organization, idea development) separately from proofreading (APA rules, grammar, spelling, etc.)
    • Revise for big-picture (content) issues first

Audio: [Carey] As you are revising the literature review, as I leader to earlier, that is a long process I think as everything is in the doctoral capstone process where you have multiple people reviewing. So, it can be really helpful to make a plan and stick to a schedule. And one key reminder in that is to include time not just for writing but for the revision process. Writing is an iterative process and so is revising.

You want to prepare to adapt your structure as the literature review develops and as you receive feedback and that is where in that cycle you might be going back and doing more research as you do get feedback. I'm hesitating because some of our graphics, I don’t, please ignore the 10. I think it was supposed to be a checkmark. We have some software issues. My apologies.

You want to break the revision into manageable and focused tasks. This is one of the most important things I learned as a professional editor is that when going through a document when you're really trying to produce a professional, polished piece of work, it is almost never a good idea especially with something as long as a dissertation chapter or a doctoral study section or a doctoral study as a whole to not try to do everything at once. And I find, you may have seen sessions at residency where we talk about this. I find it very helpful to approach content revision. I mean the big picture stuff. Revision for organization, ideas, the order of elements, structure, what you've included. To approach that separately from the fine-toothed comb proofreading tasks. I think there is a tendency to try to do that all at once. I think there's also a tendency to want to do the fine-toothed comb stuff before you really have established the content there and for the obvious logical reason. I know personally is often more gratifying to go in and do a little proofreading details; it's more soothing. The content stuff is hard work, but that is what really needs to be done and taken care of first just for the practical reason that if you have spent time proof reading material that you may cut later or move or change, then that is not necessarily time well spent. So generally, you want to be going in and doing that big picture work, first, and then make sure you have, your own approval and faculty approval on the content, and then you can go in and do the really fine tooth work of getting it publication ready.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Resources for Doctoral Capstone Writers

Audio: [Carey] We have a lot of resources for doctoral capstone writers. Highlighting a few things here. This webinar is part of a larger doctoral capstone webinar series. We have webinars on each one of the major components of the dissertation or doctoral study. We have one on methods and presenting results. We have material on the abstract and all of that is available on our webinar archive and then we show these live on a rotating schedule throughout the year, so check out our page to access the archive, and you can watch those anytime you want when you think it may be helpful.

There also, something called doctoral capstone writing workshops. This is the only thing that is not free. The doctoral capstone writing workshops do have a fee associated because it is a noncredit course offered through the Office of Academic Support. I've heard wonderful things about them. I think if you are struggling with the writing process and you want a community of writers and someone to look at your work in a detailed way it can be helpful in the price point is a lot lower than regular courses as it is kind of a supportive noncredit course. There is a link here if you are interested in checking those out. 

And there is also a link to the Form and Style website which is the group I work with and we've assembled a lot of resources there for you related specifically to doctoral capstone writing. It is a sub area of the larger Writing Center website and we also have APA style and capstone formatting guidance and information on that Form and Style review that we conduct near the end of the capstone process along with a checklist you can use if you’re interested in thinking about the kinds of things we're going to look at and maybe making some of those corrections early. You can access all of that there.


Visual: Slide changes to the following: Questions: Ask Now or Later

Audio: [Carey] That comes to the end of this presentation. I wanted to be sure to leave time for the Q&A. I've seen movement in the Q&A box was not able to read the questions so I will invite Meghan or Beth to tell me now if there's anything that would help for me to address with the group.

[Meghan] Sure, Carey, we had two questions that we kind of wanted you to address for everyone. The first one is whether every paragraph should use the MEAL plan. Particularly in the literature review, but kind of overall.

[Carey] That is a question I get a lot; it is one that I think about because I initially in my early years at the Writing Center was maybe a MEAL plan skeptic because I'll be honest, I don't like real formulaic approaches to writing. It tends to be something I love, something that is often intuitive but really for academic work that model is a great one. There's nothing that requires that you use it but I think I would say throughout the literature review especially, each of your paragraphs is going to need to have those elements. 

If you are writing a paragraph where you are talking about, in that section where you talk about the search process, that is not going to make sense in that context because you are not bringing in citations into a discussion of which databases and search terms you use or something, so there are exceptions where does not make sense. And there is no requirement that you implement that but I think as a tool and especially if you are really struggling with flow and organization and clarity and you are being asked to look at the organization of your topics is really helpful. I think in general it brings out that each paragraph really does have to have a coherent main idea and that is one of the most common organizational things that I will ask students to think about or look at is how many different ideas or themes have you crammed into maybe one really long paragraph? It is an easy thing to do inadvertently. But it makes things a lot more difficult to follow for the reader so in following MEAL you can make sure you get that clear flow of topics that helps to draw that out. And it could be helpful to use it again on the work you have already written that you might need to revise to think about a reverse outlining do I have each of these elements here and if not if there is not a good reason I don't what might I change? I don't know if that is a satisfying answer or not but that is my best answer.

[Meghan] I think it is. It is one of those it is a gray area. We had a few on whether or not there is any rule about the length of the literature review.

[Carey] No. I mean I will say when we sometimes see in the Writing Center there are those rare occasions where you might see 150 page literature review and I would say generally in most cases that is too long but it is a very subjective, it is a subjective sort of thing because again what you are going for is that slippery ambiguous idea of saturation and that comes when you've really covered all the relevant literature and reached that point where you are not gaining new information that is really pertinent to your work. So, you have done enough. And that is really going to vary from study to study so if you are having doubts about that or about the amount of information you are including, I would talk to your chair to make sure that you've really done, you’ve gone enough in depth, enough breadth but not too much and it does end up being subjective.

[Meghan] Thanks Carey. That was our big one too. I would follow up on what you are saying. I know that the library one thing they could help you set up is alerts so that when new information on your topic is published, they will let you get a little alert so you can have an idea of what is coming out. But certainly, that process of researching and writing, eventually you need to stop because you want to finish. But just another tip for that with the library. I will check the box here one more time and see if there is anything.

[Beth] I had a question. Okay, I’ll go ahead. Carey, we had a question asking about annotated bibliography and the matrix and I wondered if you could talk about the purpose of an annotated bibliography and the purpose of the matrix and how they can work together for students developing the literature review.

[Carey] Typically an annotated bibliography you are presenting, you are writing extended explanation or summary of each source and there may be some analytical elements in an annotated bibliography where indicating relevance to your work but typically you are definitely going source by source and annotated bibliography so a matrix can be a good first step toward that annotated bibliography because you are pulling out in those categories in those columns like in the examples I showed you, all of the things you want to cover about each source, and then keeping notes there using again quotation marks and stuff if you are taking words directly from the article that is helpful. That will provide you a really great framework or scaffold for writing out that material. And when you go in to synthesizing that into your literature review you are unlikely to want to take big blocks of text from your annotated bibliography and plug those in into the literature review because that again is going to go source by source by source and not be well-connected. It is probably more helpful to go back to the matrix and start looking across sources and thinking about how these things connect. I know we are at times I don't want to keep anyone.

[Beth] Most of the things coming in the Q&A box are thanks now -- you have any last thoughts before we wrap up today?

[Carey] Just thank everyone for spending time with us today and please do contact us at the email address you see here: Or visit us at office hours. We weren’t getting a lot of traffic at this live chat service. We have been experimenting with different things. We now have a four hour block every Thursday so if you check out that link when we are there it will let you connect with us directly for text chat. It is a quick Q&A but we would love to answer your questions and direct you to resources. Hopefully you will come see us.

[Beth] Thanks so much Carey and thank you Meghan for all of your work in the background. A fantastic presentation. Thank you to you all. Thank everyone for attending we hope this was useful and reach out as was said and check out those other resources that are linked throughout the slides the end here. We are going to close out for the day but happy writing everyone and we hope to work with you soon.