Literature review hacks, please!
April 16, 2014 4:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm in grad school and am writing a literature review as part of my capstone project. I have done a lot of initial research and have created awesome annotated bibliographies - it's just not enough, though.

I seem to have developed a severe case of writer's block. I've done directed research and have the information I need, but still have no idea where to begin. The concept of creating a cohesive thread through thirty different sources feels overwhelming. I have created subtopics within my chapter, but that still doesn't seem to break things down enough.

What am I missing? I'd like to write something that's presents my research in an interesting way. I'm not looking to simply create a finished product - I'd like it to be meaningful.

Your help is very, very much appreciated!
posted by WaspEnterprises to Education (4 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One way to think about the literature review is that you are acknowledging as well as constructing a dialogue between the various sources that you've found. In other words, the "thread" is more like a story about what the central arguments and hypotheses are around your topic.

Subtopics can definitely help, but the same principle applies.
posted by correcaminos at 5:03 PM on April 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

These blog posts have some really solid advice on this stage of writing a literature review:

Thinking about patterns and groups
Stepping back to focus in
More on focusing in
posted by Paragon at 5:41 PM on April 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are a gazillion books on how to write a literature review, some even geared toward very specific disciplines: 1, 2, 3

You might search your university/college library catalog for: writing literature review (as a keyword search, no quotes). Then click through to whatever e-books are available, or browse the part of the library stacks where those books tend to be found and see if any look good. Or ask your subject librarian for suggestions.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:44 PM on April 16, 2014

Seconding the acknowledgment + construction aspect of this work.

1. You construct the argument you want to make.
2. You gather material that supports the argument.
3. You encounter material that contradicts the argument.
4. You weave the contradiction into the argument and use it as a way to shed light on some aspect you've overlooked, or as interesting on its own, or etc etc.
5. You probably already know this, but Ctrl + F is your friend and deep reading of every source is not.
6. After enough rounds of Steps 2 - 5, you have enough material to constitute a respectable (in length and breadth of content) lit review.
7. Have a friend review it for cohesion and clarity, adjust where needed.
posted by magdalemon at 7:41 AM on April 17, 2014

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