Course Project Task IV/Preparing for the Literature Review

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Module 5 Assignment 1: Course Project Task IV/Preparing for the Literature Review

In Module 1 you identified a research topic of interest and some preliminary questions around that topic. Exploring databases set you on the path to look for, select, and examine existing studies for their relevance and usefulness to your topic. Then you examined them in detail and wrote a critique of one of the articles, looking for strengths and weaknesses and gaps in the research that may have been overlooked. With the annotated bibliography, you selected several relevant articles and not only did you evaluate them, but you also looked at patterns of similarities and differences between how they have presented aspects of your topic and question, continuing to consider how you might refine your research question.

In this assignment, you will attempt to complete a preliminary and preparatory document using the six selected sources thus far towards your final literature review. This is a short assignment and need not be more than one-two pages.

The first section of the paper should be an introductory paragraph that states your research question using the relational model; a clear purpose for this assignment; and a map that outlines the patterns/themes you have found so far from the sources you have reviewed.

The second section of the paper (Body)
will be an outline of the literature review. To create the outline, examine your selected sources, note the common patterns or themes, and create 3-4 clear headings that reflect the main themes. Next to each theme/heading, cite the sources that indicated this theme. Under each theme, include sub-topics that reflect key points of discussion for that theme. Make sure that the sub topics you include align with their associated headings. These headings and subtopics can then be used as sub-headings and discussion points to structure and organize your literature review in Module 6. Please read the Module 5 Overview page to understand how you would search for common themes in the literature.

The final section of the paper is a brief conclusion where you would re-state the purpose and map, while broadly summarizing key patterns/themes as they currently exist, noting any gaps and/or suggestions for future research identified by the researcher where your research question could be added to the conversation

Two important concepts/terminology to emphasize here are “literature” and “themes”:

  • A single source cannot be termed as “literature”. The word, Literature refers to numerous and major scholarly writings presented on a specific topic. Depending on your discipline and field, “the literature” can include: journal articles, books, published essays, government reports, and so on. The main thing to keep in mind is that “the literature” is the body of scholarly, professional information that is used by researchers working on that topic area. When we refer to a literature review, the implication is an examination and evaluation of a collection of sources relevant to a specific area of research. A well written literature review helps you to establish the rationale for your particular research and provides the framework in selecting a particular research question
  • A concept cannnot be designated as a theme if you only come across that perspective in a single source. However, if you see the same or differing opinions/perspectives expressed across numerous articles, then you can identify that perspective as a pattern or a theme.

Review the grading criteria below for additional details on how to structure the content.

By the due date assigned, submit your assignment as a Word document to the Discussion Area. Then through the end of the module, review at least two of your classmates’ submissions and provide constructive feedback.

All written assignments and responses should follow APA rules for attributing sources.

Please make sure you review the elements of the grading criteria and associated points carefully and make sure your assignment has addressed all the elements and in enough detail to merit full points.

Assignment 1 Grading Criteria Maximum Points
Wrote an introductory paragraph that stated the proposed research question using the relational model; stated a clear purpose for this assignment; and created a map that named the patterns/themes found so far from the sources reviewed.


Created an outline with headings and well fleshed out subtopics that reflect the main themes found across the 6 selected sources. Provided citations for each of the themes


Concluded the assignment by re-stating the purpose and map, while broadly summarizing key patterns/themes as they currently exist, noting any gaps and/or suggestions and connecting the gaps to the proposed research question


Thoughtfully reviewed at least 2 peers’ submissions, making constructive comments and/or suggestions on their paper’s structure, the development and support of themes and patterns from across the literature.



Module 5 Overview

Presented a quote by Mary Heaton Vorse, Provides the learning outcomes on which the readings and assignments for this module are based.
  • Engage in ethical scholarship and utilize appropriate citation and referencing skills associated with dissertation and scholarly writing to avoid plagiarism/matching text.
  • Examine connections between the various academic writing genres (article critiques, annotated bibliographies, article synthesis), and how they contribute to the development of the literature review and to the dissertation.
  • Understand the stages of the dissertation process.

Many Argosy University doctoral students have benefitted from interviewing people who have completed dissertations or doctoral-level research. The first activity for this module will provide you with an opportunity to do just that. Asking questions that are not always addressed in written materials and hearing real-life experiences can provide a rich learning experience. Sometimes the stories heard by students provide them with an important list of do’s and don’ts. Sometimes the stories provided by the interviewees weave intriguing tales. Often, interviewees share the growth they experienced, sometimes in unexpected ways. Always the interviewees provide assurance that there is life after the completion of a dissertation.

Module 5 also provides you the opportunity to examine connections between all the genres that you have engaged in during the prior modules and how all those different pieces fit together to develop your literature review and beyond that to your dissertation. Instead of thinking of your research topic, article critiques, annotated bibliographies, and information literacy activities as discrete experiences, think of them instead as links to a chain. Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of the forest (in this case, the research topic) when surrounded by many trees (what may seem like tons of paper from the different assignments and journal articles you have collected). As you reflect on this module, try to analyze what connections you specifically see between your research topic, prior assignments, and your prospective review of the literature.

One engaging part of the journal article reading and critiquing you will be doing over the course of your program is that you will begin to get very familiar with how your profession views the topic or research interest you are bringing to the field. You will also see themes emerging from the many articles you read. For example, in selecting articles related to a research topic of professional identity, there are many articles; within that broad topic group one can find several articles connected to one another in some fashion. The professional literature is much like an ongoing discussion of problems facing the field, so you will often see within your searches for literature several articles presenting different aspects of a single topic. You’ll note that there might be three or four different professional opinions as to what the pressing issues are in the topic area you are interested in studying. There will be schools of thought emerging – and patterns in the discussions of topics and problems in your field. You begin to recognize the perspectives emerging and see relatedness between the articles and studies. These patterns and schools of thought and connections can also be described as “themes” emerging from the professional literature. In using the example of the topic of professional identity, notice that the following themes, or repeated discussions, appear across the literature. In 35 or more professional journal articles, many of those articles fit neatly into one of these four categories:

Unity in professional identity (having an overarching vision for the profession),
Specialization in professional identity (having specialty areas for the profession),
Education as a primary contributor to a person’s professional identity
Standards in Competency as a professional concern

These four categories are themes in the literature on professional identity and they provide an excellent basis to frame and structure a discussion of the problem of professional identity in a literature review.

There is much discussion about whether a profession needs more unity in its identity or if certification (and specialization) is more important. The contributions of education programs to the formation of professional identity is another perspective introduced on the topic. Professional licensure and certification emerge as another theme in the professional identity topic: standards in competency.

These themes highlighted above provide a way for me to organize a literature review into a series of critical discussions. Uncovering the themes also provides you a basis of support for your own research questions. Also, using search terms from these themes will help to uncover additional literature. Through all this reading over quite some time, you are bound to find gaps in the literature – a question yet to be asked! The more immersed you are in the literature, the more likely you will know the core issues in the topic area, and the more likely you are to find gaps in the literature, such as that question that has yet to be proposed!

The reason you read so many journal articles and scholarly publications is to assure that first, we are grounded in the professional literature so we can ask research questions that will expand on the current body of knowledge. By the time you arrive at dissertation, after your coursework is completed, it is expected you will have substantial understanding of the professional perspectives on your research interests. One’s research questions naturally spring from one’s own curiosity, that’s an excellent starting point and keeps the connection with one’s passion and experience; the next step is finding a good fit between your question and the existing body of professional literature. By the time dissertation comes around, you will be quite knowledgeable about your topic.

Critical Analysis and Synthesis Versus Reporting

Once you have identified themes and patterns in the literature around which you can organize your knowledge of the problem area, you’ll have a good structure in which to present your discussion and analysis of the published scholarly works.

In addition to using emergent themes and patterns in the literature to organize your study, now it is time for you to step up into an “informed reviewer” role when preparing your discussions of your literature. The themes can be used as section headings to present a logical unfolding of the topics and subtopics related to your research interests in the professional literature. For instance, you identify the merits of the different opinions, pairing author Expert’s findings with two related studies by authors Clever and Brighter. However, instead of listing factors one and two from Expert’s findings, then discussing Clever’s discovery that relates to Expert’s findings but takes it a step further, followed by discussing Brighter’s perspective, you synthesize the material by including an integrated discussion of Expert, Clever, and Brighter’s work as those works relate to the different themes

You might find Expert came up with several interesting findings, but Expert’s’ methodology was in question because the sample size was too small to generalize the results to larger populations. You might appreciate that Clever’s work is well organized, with a sequence of planned studies, one building on the other, and also note that seven other studies find Clever’s arguments well founded and supported in other’s research. Perhaps Brighter’s research design did not factor in some aspect of the population studied that is very apparent to you but is not discussed in the article. By discussing these aspects, you discuss the themes and subtopics in your topic area as they relate to one another and how they develop a comprehensive picture of the problem discussion in the field.

The writing involved in this kind of critical analysis for literature reviews uses far fewer direct quotations than you will find in report writing. You are introducing your own perspective as a professional engaged in the discussion. Your analysis points out the merits and possible shortcomings of other studies, and compares and contrasts current findings in the field. You develop expertise in seeking out the commonalities and the differentiators in the professional literature.


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