Research Methods in
Technical and Professional Writing



Literature review - Analysis

This week the main focus is on doing a close reading and analysis of some published literature reviews. The goal is to help you see how they are structured. Then next week, you can use variations of that structure in your own literature review.



Weak writing


The problem of weak writing is not just found in the sciences. Actually, it may be worse in the humanities because past history encourages the use of long convoluted sentences containing several semicolons and heavy jargon.

Being able to write without falling into that writing style actually shows you are the better writer.

Ok, some people will talk about writing for the audience. But it is also very true that want the audience expects is not always what the audience really needs/wants. And a writer's job is to provide what the audience needs to maximize communication.


Weak scientific writing





A light piece about how to think about how people mentally see your sentences.


The writer's camera



Proper emphasis


The overall writing quality and its ability to communicate depends, in a large part, on the relative emphasis you give to various elements within the text.

In pieces that have all of the information, but don't work, it's probably a mistaken emphasis and audience which caused the problem.

Poor literature reviews often have the appropriate sources, but the information gets dumped on the reader. A reader will rarely take the time to sort out information dumps and should not have to make the connections. Making the connections is your job, as the writer. Communicating those connections means you have clearly prioritized them and give each the emphasis it deserves.


Achieve proper emphasis




You will analyze two literature reviews. Write up both of them separately. Then write up a summary of your evaluation that focuses on the similarities and differences in the articles' structure.

Email me a copy and post your review to Blackboard so you can see how other people analyzed the same material.

For each literature review

Write a few paragraphs describing the overall structure of the article.

Create a paragraph level outline (yes, one entry for each paragraph). There will also be an entry setting up each heading. This should contain a sentence or two describing the content and purpose of most of the paragraphs. Some paragraphs may need 3-4 sentences. It is not a I. 1. A. with short phrases type of outline you learned in high school.

This is not an article annotation or a content summary. The content of the article is not the concern here, but rather the structure. How did the author put the paper together? How are the topics organized? How are the topics connected together? How were the relationships built? How are the paragraphs structured to support of a claim? How are the sources intermixed to provide that support? Why are the paragraphs in the order they appear? Is the article's structure working?

It's also not a writing outline (what you could use to write this paper yourself), but an explanatory outline that is understandable for someone who has not read the original paper. You want to capture the nitty-gritty of how the author put the paper together. You want to expose the seams, studs, and wires (insert your own mix of sewing & construction metaphors).

Although this is not a formal outline, your analysis should clearly reflect the hierarchy, the multiple of levels of information. At a simple level this would correspond to the text's headings, but the paragraphs within a heading may also have a hierarchical structure you need to capture.


Choose two of these articles for your literature review analysis.

A critical review of the literature on spreadsheet errors. A systematic review that looks at a broad area. The topic is not TPC, but structure of a literature review does not change across fields. A non-TC lit review also lets you focus on the structure without worrying about the content.

Writing for Human Performance: Relating Reading Research to Document Design

An Overview of Web Design Issues for Personal Digital Assistants (yes, this is an article I wrote many years ago)

Signaling Effects: A Review Of The Research

 Toward A Framework For Intercultural Visual Communication


Discussion questions

No formal discussion questions, but there will be a thread for general questions. This assignment is not as simple as it appears. Picking the shortest two is probably not the best idea.


Thoughts to ponder


Next week, there is a long statement where I say

A paragraph's topic isn't "What Redish said in her article" but is a topic that isn't a direct connect to a reading, such as: "Colored fonts cause people to....." then you use multiple citations to explain the design issues of colored fonts.

As you create the outline, think in these terms. What is the big topic the author is getting at in the paragraph. Some may be of the "Redish said..." type, but they are embedded in a longer discussion that connects it to other sources and the main idea.


Notice how the paragraphs are structured with very few use of the author's names as the subject of the sentence, such as "Redish said..." Instead, the concept is the subject. The sources all become citations, not the sentence subject. There is a big difference in how the two set up the communication.


Remember from last week's readings, that comprehension isn't in the content, but in the relationships. How did the author build those relationships. That needs to be in the outline.






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