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Journal ArticleDOI

Writing the Literature Review: Graduate Student Experiences.

19 Jul 2020-The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education)-Vol. 11, Iss: 1, pp 1-17

AbstractDifficulties with academic writing tasks, such as the literature review, impact students’ timely completion of graduate degrees. A better understanding of graduate students’ perceptions of writing the literature review could enable supervisors, administrators, service providers, and graduate students themselves to overcome these difficulties. This paper presents a case study of graduate students at a secondary campus of a Canadian research university. It describes survey data and results from focus groups conducted between 2014 and 2015 by communications faculty, writing centre staff, and librarians. The focus group participants were Master’s and Doctoral students, including students situated within one discipline and those in interdisciplinary programs. The questions focused on the students’ experiences of writing the literature review as well as the supports both accessed and desired. Data analysis revealed four themes: (a) literature review as a new and fundamental genre; (b) literature review for multiple purposes, in multiple forms, and during multiple stages of a graduate program; (c) difficulties with managing large amounts of information; and (d) various approaches and tools are used for research and writing. Using an academic literacies approach, the paper addresses implications for campus program development and writing centre interventions and furthers research into graduate students’ experiences of writing literature reviews.

Topics: Academic writing (61%)

Summary (4 min read)

Introduction

  • Graduate student experiences, also known as Writing the literature review.
  • The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(1).
  • A better understanding of graduate students’ perceptions of writing the literature review could enable supervisors, administrators, service providers, and graduate students themselves to overcome these difficulties.

Literature Review

  • The literature review is a “keystone genre” (Badenhorst, 2019, p. 263) that facilitates graduate students entering into disciplinary (and interdisciplinary) conversations (ChatterjeePadmanabhan et al., 2019) and asserting “disciplinary identities and alignments with specific groups” (Kwan, 2007, p. 54).
  • In order to identify directions for pedagogical and support practices for this genre, it is essential to undertake longitudinal research on graduate student experiences of writing literature reviews to understand the diverse types of challenges they face, the complexity of their discursive context, and the role of identity in their transition from novice to expert researchers.
  • To better understand the academic literacies and discursive contexts related to literature review writing and to inform pedagogical and support practices, several researchers have analyzed citation patterns in literature review corpora.
  • Pedagogical practices should include discussions about the constructions of “truth” in terms of source and student standpoints, the ongoing performance of identity, and the negotiation of subject positions when reviewing the literature (Badenhorst, 2018a, p. 133).
  • Moreover, Badenhorst et al.’s (2015) call for “sustained, disciplinary embedded writing pedagogies that allow graduate students to negotiate academic literacies over time” (p. 2) further complicates some of the typical interventions that institutions undertake to support their graduate students.

Method

  • The study design was a mixed methods case study, which included an initial quantitative survey and subsequent qualitative focus group interviews.
  • Purposive sampling was used for both the online quantitative survey and subsequent focus groups.
  • Six in-person focus groups were completed between April 2014 and November 2015.
  • After the final round of coding was finished, the two principal Walter & Stouck: Writing the Literature Review: Graduate Student Experiences Published by Scholarship@Western, 2020 5 researchers completed the data analysis and finalized the themes.

Results

  • This paper focuses on the survey results associated with writing literature reviews and accessing supports.
  • In the survey, when asked to self-identify areas for writing improvement from a list, 45.3% of survey respondents selected Literature Review and 39.1% selected Synthesizing and Analyzing (key activities during the literature review) as areas for improvement for their writing.
  • Library search engines and databases (50%) were the most commonly used research strategy, followed by Google (14%) and Google Scholar (14%).
  • Librarian consultations (5%) and recommended reading lists (3%) were the least used.

Literature Review as a New and Fundamental Genre

  • In response to the early focus group questions about past and present writing tasks and experiences, several participants identified the literature review as new to them at some point in their second undergraduate professional degree or graduate degree programs.
  • After signaling their lack of experience with this genre, most participants almost immediately followed up with statements that revealed its ongoing importance as a fundamental genre for their subsequent graduate work.
  • Because for their courses the authors never had to write that much scientific or, like, literature reviews for the courses.
  • Participant B then mentioned looking at numerous academic writing blogs “to get a handle on that process,” and stated “I continue to follow that to this day actually.”.
  • They still talked about literature reviews in a way that suggested this genre was fundamental and they were in fact struggling with writing them.

Literature Review as Multiple

  • These difficulties graduate students encounter may stem from literature reviews serving multiple purposes, taking multiple forms, and appearing in multiple stages of a graduate program.
  • Participant E began the exchange with, I don’t feel that what I wrote and what [my supervisor] wants is the same as the lit.
  • And then when [my supervisor] read it, he had me take it all out.
  • And so he’s now got the new draft with no opinion in it.
  • The participants’ confusion and struggle with description versus opinion and summarizing versus synthesizing/appraising further complicates their navigation of the multiple purposes, forms, and expectations of the specific types of literature reviews they are writing at various stages of their graduate program.

Difficulties with Managing Large Amounts of Information

  • Another key theme that emerged, despite not being explicitly addressed in the focus group questions, was that the participants had difficulties managing large amounts of information when researching for and writing literature reviews.
  • The first comments related to this theme occurred early on in the first focus group and appeared across all but one focus group.
  • And that’s always been my challenge, because I tend to amass way more data than I need for the literature review.
  • In another focus group, there was a robust discussion about managing sources, notes, and data, with Participant D summarizing a personal strategy in detail for the others and at the end declaring: “It’s a blizzard, it’s a blizzard out there.”.

Various Approaches and Tools are Used for Research and Writing

  • It is interesting that Participant C envisioned a shared repository in the final focus group because another theme that emerged during data analysis was that participants were using various approaches and tools for literature review research and writing.
  • As the participants described their approaches, the iterative nature of this work became evident across all focus groups.
  • In another focus group, Participant D shared that “My process is really messy,” and described going in circles during the writing process.
  • Walter & Stouck: Writing the Literature Review: Graduate Student Experiences Published by Scholarship@Western, 2020 9.

Supporting Literature Review Writing

  • In addition to the survey questions about writing tasks and the focus group questions about writing the literature review, other survey and focus group questions were formulated to collect data about the services and supports that participants were accessing during their graduate programs.
  • One of the most helpful supervisor supports mentioned across focus groups was guidance for finding key research for literature reviews.
  • One participant mentioned using YouTube and other online videos.
  • Students wanted more relevant examples of writing to align supervisor and student expectations for the writing of particular genre documents, including the literature review.
  • Focus group participants were positive about existing services and supports, but they explicitly identified more peer support as a pressing need for all of their academic writing tasks.

Discussion

  • The focus group participants’ identification of the literature review as a difficult new academic writing task is not surprising, and the scholarship on writing them is filled with negative adjectives (see, for example, Badenhorst, 2018a, 2018b, 2019) and disabling metaphors (see, for example, Kamler & Thomson, 2014).
  • The participants may be still positioned—by both themselves and their supervisors—as “onlooker[s]” rather than as “agents who use and evaluate the research of others, in order to make a place for their own work” (Kamler & Thomson, 2014, p. 37).
  • The complexity of literature review writing is also exacerbated by both its iterative nature, for example Wisker (2015) quipped that “developing a literature review is an iterative process masquerading as a foundational process” (p. 73), and the complicated nexus of reading, researching, and writing that it entails (Chen et al., 2016; Kwan, 2008).
  • Finally, it is unsurprising that library, supervisor, and writing centre support for graduate writing formed a large part of the conversations in the focus groups, and these types of supports have been discussed extensively in the literature.
  • It is also unsurprising that the most requested support by participants was for peer to peer support because this type of support facilitates community formation, identity-construction, and enculturation into academic literacy and discourse practices.

Conclusions and Implications

  • In response to the themes that emerged from this study, particularly because the authors were able to gather data throughout the course of students’ entire graduate programs, the graduate writing centre at their institution has sought increased institutional collaboration to support graduate student research and writing throughout their graduate programs and has introduced new programs and services.
  • Not specifically for writing literature reviews, they similarly have recommended that “instructors partner with writing specialists for certain tasks” (p. 13).
  • It is difficult to get permission to distribute the types of initial literature reviews students are completing.
  • In addition to these tangible supports for literature review writing undertaken in response to the study results, the research identified an area for further study.
  • Specifically, the participants’ experiences suggest a need for faculty and institutions to recognize and better understand the multiple, ongoing processes of identity construction occurring during the writing of literature reviews.

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Journal ArticleDOI
10 Apr 2021
Abstract: The use of proper and appropriate technology can help graduate students’ in developmental and constructive writing. The editing and refining processes involved in the writing can either be carried out individually or in small groups. These processes are helpful for novice education researchers to work on and build their research proposals. Their ability to organize information based on their reading of articles, as well as organizing the identified information systematically, is essential for writing a research proposal.A study was conducted to look at the thinking of graduate students on the use of a learning template that was developed by the researchers and used in the Research Methodology classes. This template, called the Organizing Article Review Template (OART), contains elements or focus to organize students' thinking and writing when they are reading research articles. A total of 34Master students, four Research Methodology course instructors, and 16 Master students’ Project Paper supervisors from the Faculty of Education of a public university in the North of Peninsular Malaysia were involved in the study entrenched within the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). The data for this qualitative study was obtained from semi-structured interviews with all the research participants and from students’ reflective writing. The findings of the study show the positive acceptance of students towards the use of templates to organize their reading of articles. The template trained them to focus on reading and selecting appropriate and relevant information in the articles. The use of technology tools such as computers, smart and android phones, as well as appropriate computer programs (for example Words, Excel, and Google docs) were very helpful in supporting the use of OART,which had contributed and helped them to further strengthened their process of writing the research proposals. Editing the components of the proposals was made more practical when using the OART to compare and contrast the identified information from the articles. This study contributes to the facilitation of Master’s students towards being more systematically organized in their thinking when quoting important information from the articles. The use of the OART had also aided them be more confident and critical in writing their research proposals.

4 citations


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  • ...In general, it can be said that the thoughts of the instructors and project papers’ supervisors pertaining to the issues encountered by graduates in the context of writing a research proposal, are seemingly in line with the findings reported by Pardede (2015) and Ninik (2019) in Indonesia, Walter and Stouck( 2020) in Canada, Manchishi, Ndhlovu, and Mwanza (2015) in Zambia, and Shahsavar and Kourepaz (2020) in Iran....

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  • ...In another study at an educational institution in Indonesia, a qualitative study, using document analysis and interviews, was carried out by Ninik (2019)....

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  • ...Walter and Stouck (2020) had conducted a case study at a university in Canada with research participants consisting of Master and Doctoral students....

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  • ...…encountered by graduates in the context of writing a research proposal, are seemingly in line with the findings reported by Pardede (2015) and Ninik (2019) in Indonesia, Walter and Stouck( 2020) in Canada, Manchishi, Ndhlovu, and Mwanza (2015) in Zambia, and Shahsavar and Kourepaz (2020) in Iran....

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References
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Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: n their article "Scholars Before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation Literature Review in Research Preparation" (Educational Researcher, August/September 2005), David N. Boote and Penny Beile argue that the literature review is the fundamental task of dissertation and research preparation. They claim that doctoral students receive minimal formal training, and little guidance from faculty or published sources, in how to analyze and synthesize research literature (p. 5). As a result, they argue, most dissertation literature reviews are poorly conceptualized and written (p. 4), and "Doctoral students may not be learning what it means to make and justify educational claims" (p. 9). They conclude that "Literature reviewing should be a central focus of predissertation coursework, integrated throughout the program" (p. 12). Many of Boote and Beile's claims are consistent with my experience in teaching and advising doctoral students, and the authors perform a valuable service in raising important, and often neglected, issues that bear on conducting a literature review for a doctoral dissertation in education. I agree with their assessment of the majority of dissertation literature reviews, and with their emphasis on the importance of learning to identify, analyze, and integrate research literature competently. In my view, however, the authors' conception of a proper dissertation literature review undercuts the value of their insights. They repeatedly use the terms "thorough" and "comprehensive" to describe the type of dissertation literature review they recommend, and although they criticize the idea, held by many doctoral students, that such reviews should be "exhaustive" (p. 7), the authors' overall message is clearly that dissertation reviews should be a broad and comprehensive review of the literature dealing with a particular field or topic. "Comprehensiveness" and "breadth" are two of their criteria for assessing "coverage," the first of their standards for evaluating dissertation literature reviews and the one to which they devote the most discussion.

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Abstract: Writing a literature review requires highly sophisticated academic literacies. Many postgraduate students find this genre a challenge. While there is a growing awareness of the need for explicit pedagogy to support students writing this genre, many pedagogical interventions fail to move beyond a focus on citations as a stylistic convention or as a way of avoiding plagiarism. What is missing is a pedagogy that relates citing to the more complex, fluid conceptual and ontological practices that are implicit in academic contexts. The purpose of this paper is to explore the citation patterns, complexity and discursive practices in master's students' literature reviews, and to inform pedagogy.

12 citations


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Jian-E Peng1
TL;DR: It was found that compared to the HGWT, the OTWT displayed significantly greater use of non-integral citations, “author as agent” integral forms, and summary that contribute to authorial voice.
Abstract: Constructing authorial voice is considered essential in English academic texts. Citation as an important discursive feature contributing to authorial voice has been underexplored, despite fruitful research on citation practices. It also remains largely unknown whether variations in citation-based voice construction exist in doctoral theses completed across training contexts. This study explores and compares authorial voice constructed in citation in the literature review chapters of 20 doctoral theses written by home-grown and overseas-trained Chinese writers (HGWT and OTWT), complemented by interviews with four of the 20 writers. It was found that compared to the HGWT, the OTWT displayed significantly greater use of non-integral citations, “author as agent” integral forms, and summary that contribute to authorial voice. Descriptive statistics for the two subcorpora also suggested that authorial voice was more often communicated via lexical devices loaded with evaluation by the ten home-grown writers whereas the ten overseas-trained writers preferred syntactic and discoursal devices. While the present results are more suggestive than deterministic, this study highlights the importance of promoting novice writers' awareness of the obscure and often unnoticed role of citation in constructing authorial voice.

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Abstract: Literature reviews are a genre that many graduate students do not fully understand and find difficult to write. While the genre, language and rhetorical moves of literature reviews are widely resea...

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