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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Webinar Update: April Webinars!

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Happy almost April, Walden students! We hope you are enjoying spring wherever you are! This month we’re here to keep engaging you and your writing growth with some wonderful webinars. 

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Every webinar presents students with a live, interactive setting where you can ask questions of writing center staff, work on practice exercises and questions, and develop a better understanding of the topic being presented. This month, our topics range from citation formatting to synthesis to using personal experience in your academic work.
You can click these links to register for the webinar ahead of time! If you can’t attend live, don’t worry—you can check out our entire Webinar Recording Library here.


If you have any questions about our webinar schedule or appointment scheduling system, e-mail us at writingsupport@waldenu.edu. We hope to see you there!
 

The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.


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Literature Review Essentials: Align Problems

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Writing an effective review of literature is a necessary step if you are writing a doctoral study or dissertation. It can feel overwhelming, though; it’s almost like doing a research project within a research project, where you devise a strategy, gather evidence (in this case, relevant literature), and then analyze and organize it to present to your reader. Therefore, like all elements of a major research undertaking, planning ahead is key! I’d like to share a strategy today that can help you use the key words in your problem statement to build a preliminary outline for your literature review and can make the drafting process go much, much faster.

Title Image for this blog post: a canyon with blue sky above

Start Planning Your Draft Long Before You’re Ready to Start Writing
One problem researchers can face when writing the literature review is not knowing how to get started. There’s a lot of literature out there, and you will have a lot of articles and notes you will want to cover. Using key words from your problem statement to get you started can keep your literature review on track and help you focus in on what’s most relevant to your individual study without getting too impossibly broad.

To help you with this, the Walden Library has lots of good resources for doctoral students writing their literature review, even specific information on doing research for a literature review. The library also has specific instructions for generating key search terms based on your topic, and using your problem statement to generate a preliminary outline for your literature review follows the same principle, except in reverse.

Make it Easy on Your Reader, and On Yourself
You don’t have to invent new headings for your literature review out of thin air—they should already be embedded in the introduction to your study. When you sat down to generate key words to search in library databases, you took the key words in your study and brainstormed as many options as you could to conduct and exhaustive search. Now, when you are sitting down to write, look at your problem statement again. These are the main ideas your reader is going to latch onto and look for throughout your document.

Circle or highlight the major words and concepts in your problem statement—there may be some repetition, but that’s OK. Once you have a list, instead of generating more examples, see if you can boil it down to a handful of key concepts. Then, organize those concepts and subconcepts into an outline, and voila! Now you’ve broken down your literature review into smaller sections that each cover a key part of research on your topic. Plus, these are the main ideas and concepts your reader will already be looking for, so they’ll be already familiar.

The Table of Contents Test
If you look through a sampling of strong dissertations, you will start to notice how closely the well-organized and synthesized literature reviews correlate to the problem statement.

Here’s just one example. In the following image, the main words in the problem statement are highlighted: 
A Sample Problem Statement with Key Terms Highlighted
A Sample Problem Statement with Key Terms Highlighted

Now, if you look at the headings in this author’s Table of Contents, you can see how much the information in the chapter headings matches the information in the problem statement:

Dissertation Table of Contents Containing the Highlighted Terms from the Problem Statement
Dissertation Table of Contents Containing the Highlighted Terms from the Problem Statement

Instead of organizing the literature review chronologically, or by author, she stuck with the main ideas in her problem statement, then filled in the sections and subheadings based on the research she found. If you do this in your own writing, it will give you a head start on a well-synthesized, clearly organized literature review that stays focused and provides strong support for the kind of original research you want to do.

In Conclusion
Instead of looking at the mound of extant literature you found and building a literature review from scratch, use your problem statement to get you started with your major categories and subheadings. You might eventually want to reorganize and add or subtract headings as you write and make revisions, but this strategy will start you off in the right direction. You want your literature review to support the new work you want to contribute as a scholar, and what better way to do that than by using your own words!





Lydia Lunning
 is a Dissertation Editor and the Writing Center's Coordinator for Capstone Services. She earned degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota, and served on the editorial staff of Cricket Magazine Group.


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Relaxation Reminder

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Here in the northern U.S. February and March can be a little bit of a downer weather-wise—everyone is ready for winter to end but instead we often get grey skies and slushy snow. So to help you through those winter/beginning of semester/general life stress, today’s Thursday Thoughts is all about relaxation.


Music: Enjoy some soothing music (either in the background as you work or on its own). 
Breathing: Breath is so important to taking a moment and relaxing.

  • This visual exercise to practice taking deep, measured breaths can help you take a few minutes to be still and reset.
Indicate your space:
Part of allowing yourself to take a moment to relax can be to have something in your space that indicates you are taking your moment. I light a rock salt lamp on my desk—you may enjoy candles, incense, a cup of tea, or even a refreshing glass of water. Whatever it is, use this as a mini-ritual for yourself to indicate that these few minutes, half hour, however long you have, are for you to relax and breathe.

Take care of yourselves, students! Do you have any tricks, tips, or favorite relaxing activities to help you take a moment away from your busy life? Share them below and let us know how you like our list above.

The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.



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Literature Review Essentials: Construct Paragraphs

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One of the topics our Writing Instructors and Dissertation Editors frequently discuss with students in paper reviews and form and style reviews is the MEAL plan. MEAL stands for the following: Main idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Lead out. The MEAL Plan is a way to remember the basic components and structure of an academic body paragraph, and we often suggest using this paragraphing strategy when writing documents such as course papers and discussion posts.

While this strategy is quite useful for writing these common coursework assignments, did you know that it’s also useful for writing literature review body paragraphs?

Title Image with canyons and vegetation

When you write your thematically organized literature review body paragraphs, one way to do this is by using the MEAL plan. Paragraphs that follow the MEAL plan have four main parts: (1) the topic sentence which states the main idea of the paragraph in the author’s own words, (2) relevant evidence which is paraphrased or quoted and also cited, (3) analysis of that evidence, threaded throughout the paragraph as needed, and (4) a conclusion sentence which offers synthesis and wraps up the paragraph, written in the author’s own words.

Here is an adaptable outline of what this might look like for a literature review body paragraph:

  • Main idea: A topic sentence which tells the reader the theme that arose in the literature.
  • Evidence: Paraphrased and cited information from a source in the literature which tells the reader important information related to the theme. 
  • Analysis: The writer’s interpretation and analysis of the paraphrased information which can be used to explain the evidence and link ideas.
  • Repeat evidence and analysis as needed: In a literature review, there will almost always be several pieces of evidence paraphrased from different sources with analysis threaded throughout as needed.
  • Lead out: A conclusion sentence which synthesizes what all of this literature has to say about this theme and concludes the paragraph.

One thing to emphasize with this outline is that the evidence and analysis can be repeated as many times as necessary in order to convey relevant information from the literature and analyze that information. This means that each paragraph will likely have a different amount of evidence and analysis, depending on how many sources had information to contribute to the overall theme. Some paragraphs may be short with just 2 pieces of evidence, and some may be longer with 4 or 5 pieces of evidence contributing to the theme. So, while this method offers an overall structure, it’s also flexible and adaptable.

Putting this into practice, here’s what this might look like for a paragraph in a literature review about the benefits of apartment living:

[Main idea]: Apartments are better than single family homes for young couples because of the community that is available. [Evidence from source 1]: As Basye (2015) explained, young couples living on their own benefit from relationships with multi-generational neighbors and friends. [Evidence from source 2]: In addition, as Bono and Matluba (2016) argued, young couples often do not yet have secure social networks, so living in an apartment as compared to a home offers the opportunity to meet people nearby and create social networks close to home. [Analysis]: Thus, apartment living can be beneficial for relationship building. [Evidence from source 3]: Furthermore, having neighbors offers a safety network because when individuals form communities and social bonds, they are more likely to look out for one another (Hendron, 2017).  [Lead out]: Overall, the literature showed that apartments are beneficial for young couples because of the relationships they can form, the networks they can create, and increased safety.

When organizing a literature review thematically, using this MEAL plan approach can help to ensure that the theme addressed in the paragraph is clear, the evidence is organized, and analysis and concluding thoughts are included. As you write your literature review body paragraphs then, use this MEAL plan approach to (1) make it clear what themes arose in the literature, (2) paraphrase relevant source information for the reader, (3) analyze and synthesize the information that you paraphrase, and (4) conclude and wrap up your ideas.

If you’d like to learn more about the MEAL plan, you can also watch our webinar on Writing Effective Academic Paragraphs. If you’d like to learn more about literature reviews, you can watch our webinar on Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography Basics.


We hope you’ll try this method of applying the MEAL plan strategy to your next literature review, and let us know how it goes in the comments!



Jes Philbrook
 is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Doctoral Writing Assessment in the Walden University Writing Center. Jes has been helping graduate students write literature reviews for the last seven years, since she started working with nursing students who frequently were assigned literature review assignments. In her free time, Jes likes to take walks around lakes, plan trips and adventures, and cook delicious and wholesome food.


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WriteCast Episode 36: Social Change and Difficult Conversations

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Join us for today's WriteCast podcast episode as Beth and Brittany address a topic that directly influences our Walden University mission of social change: How to create spaces for having difficult conversations. When topics arise that reasonable people disagree on, emotions, ideas, and personal viewpoints can lead to tension between individuals in a conversation. Join our hosts as they address this tricky situation and take a close look at some important questions on this topic:
When working for positive social change, what can we do when others disagree on what changes is needed or how to enact change? How do we find common ground and keep discussions productive? Can academic writing teach us anything about how to approach and navigate difficult conversations?
Click on the player below to listen to the full episode now! If you'd like a transcript of today's episode, or if you'd like a list of all of our episodes, click over to our WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers homepage. Happy Listening! 




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The WriteCast podcast
 is produced by Anne Shiell and the staff of the Walden University Writing Center and delves into a different writing issue in each episode. In line with the mission of the Writing Center, WriteCast provides multi-modal, on demand writing instruction that enhances students' writing skill and ease. We hope you enjoy this episode and comment in the box below


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Literature Review Essentials: Identify Themes

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Academic and scholarly writers often find themselves in situations where they must write literature reviews. This genre of writing is useful for academic writers because it provides an opportunity to demonstrate what research has already shown or what gaps exist in the literature. Literature reviews are also often the starting point of demonstrating how your research fits into a larger body of work. At the capstone stage, writers at Walden compose literature reviews, but more and more, students in coursework are writing these kinds of documents too.

Over the last year, I’ve had several students write in to our chat or paper review services asking for help figuring out how to organize literature review body paragraphs. So today, let’s discuss how to organize and outline a literature review thematically.

Title Slide: Canyons and Blue Sky

Literature Reviews vs. Annotations or Summaries

Literature reviews should be organized thematically because the purpose is to show, overall, what the literature has demonstrated. The goal is not to give the reader a summary of each article. That’s what an annotated bibliography is: a series of summaries and analyses of sources, one listed after the other. With an annotated bibliography, readers are looking to have these questions answered: What is each source about, what’s the criticism of each source, and how is each source applicable? An annotated bibliography takes each source one by one and engages with one source per paragraph.

In contrast, the literature review is different since it’s not actually the sources that matter; instead, it’s the synthesis that matters. Readers, when going through a literature review, are looking to have these questions answered: In this body of literature, what were the main themes that arose, and what do these sources say about these themes? How do these sources overlap, and where are there gaps in the literature? A literature review synthesizes the ideas in sources and engages with several sources per paragraph.

So, the first step to writing a thematic literature review is to be sure you’re actually writing a literature review and not an annotated bibliography.

Planning and Outlining to Organize Thematically

In order to write a literature review, writers must do a lot of planning. Without proper planning, it will be hard to determine what the major themes are that have arisen in the literature, and the review might become disorganized and require significant revision. So, to help you stay on track, here’s a method for how you can approach your literature review at the planning stage:

1. As you begin to read your sources, do some critical reading to decipher: What are the major themes and ideas that you are seeing in the literature related to your topic? Take notes as you read, perhaps by highlighting sources with various colors based on emerging themes, or by making notes in the margins, or by writing down themes you’re seeing in a notebook. Try a few methods and then use what works for you.

2. Once you’re noticing a few themes, start to create an outline, organized by theme, where you have the theme at the top and then list out each source that had something to do with that theme. Ideally, you’ll eventually have several themes in your outline with several sources below each theme. This will help you structure and organize by themes and plan body paragraphs. Here’s how this might look:

Theme 1: Name or description of theme, which will eventually be made into a topic sentence
  • Author Name (Year), Paraphrase of relevant material related to the theme
  • Repeat as needed for all the sources you’ve found that deal with this theme
Theme 2: Name or description of theme, which will eventually be made into a topic sentence
  • Author Name (Year), Paraphrase of relevant material related to the theme
  • Author Name (Year), Paraphrase of relevant material related to the theme
  • Repeat as needed for all the sources you’ve found that deal with this theme
Continue as needed, depending on how many themes you have identified in the literature and how many sources have information to contribute to the themes.

3. Continue to read through your sources to (1) identify themes in the literature and (2) identify which sources have information and ideas that contribute to those themes. You may need to re-read sources to catch things missed in the first read, and as you read and re-read, your outline will continue to grow. Note too that it’s okay if a source is listed in the outline many times. Sources will naturally address many themes, so it is expected that a source will appear a few times throughout a literature review, particularly if the source is complex and covers many relevant topics.

Once you have gone through these steps to sift through your research, determine the themes, figure out which sources relate to which themes, and create your outline for your literature review body paragraphs, you have a solid foundation for the drafting of your thematic literature review. From here, you can start to draft body paragraphs and sections that address various themes in the literature.

Give this strategy for outlining thematic literature reviews a try, and let us know how it works for you in the comments section of this post. We look forward to hearing your stories!



Jes Philbrook is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Doctoral Writing Assessment in the Walden University Writing Center. Jes has been helping graduate students write literature reviews for the last seven years, since she started working with nursing students who frequently were assigned literature review assignments. In her free time, Jes likes to take walks around lakes, plan trips and adventures, and cook delicious and wholesome food.


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Literature Review Essentials: A Five-Part Blog Series

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Are you working on a literature review for your capstone or coursework? Literature reviews can be tricky because they have a slightly different organization, purpose, and audience than other course papers. In this five-part blog series we tackle the literature review to help you through the process!

Craggy Canyon with Blue Skies


In this series we discuss narrowing down your focus, gathering your ideas/sources, synthesizing your information, and (if you're a capstone writer) aligning your review with your problem statement. For those who may be unfamiliar, a literature review is a paper or section of a work which goes over various sources concerning the paper's topic to provide an overview of pertinent research for the reader. Learn more about literature reviews on the Writing Center's webpages on that topic.

Sound helpful? Check out each of our posts below!

Define Goals—Editor Tara establishes the main goals of a literature review and provides some foundational information on this type of document.

Curate Information—Instructor Nicole discusses why synthesis is important for the literature review and how to curate the information you've compiled.

Identify Themes—Instructor Jes provides an easy-to-use outline for how you can organize your literature review by theme.

Construct Paragraphs—Instructor Jes returns with a sample paragraph from a theme-organized literature review using the MEAL Plan.
Align Problems—Editor and Coordinator of Capstone Resources Lydia offers some insight for capstone writers in aligning their literature review with their problem statement.


With some help from these posts, you will be well on your way to writing a clear, cohesive, and thematically organized literature review! Have some tips and tricks about literature reviews or feel like sharing which of these posts helped you the most? Tell us below!


The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.


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Literature Review Essentials: Curate Information

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The aim of this blog post is to get you feeling comfortable with beginning the literature review process. First, we will talk about why synthesis is an important skill to practice in your literature review. And second, we will discuss how to curate your mountains of information that will contribute to a successful literature review.  

Curate Information to make your Literature Review Process more organized

Synthesis: A Foundational Literature Review Skill
I find literature reviews particularly daunting because their purpose is to synthesize information, and the word “synthesize” – in and of itself – is a little intimidating. 

To synthesize means to create a comprehensive whole from many different parts. For the sake of metaphor, let’s say we have two friends, Sam and Taylor. To create synthesis in a literature review, you want to examine what Sam and Taylor have in common and in what ways they differ, and you want to explain those similarities and differences to your readers.

In your investigation, you might find some interesting themes about Sam and Taylor’s cuisine preferences. You might want to tell your readers that, “While Sam and Taylor both enjoy Indian food, Sam’s favorite is Italian, and Taylor’s favorite is Filipino. ” Then, tell your readers about Sam and Taylor’s affinity for Indian food and why/how they developed this affinity. Why, too, do they have their different preferences?

The point of synthesis is not to summarize Sam's likes and dislikes in one paragraph, and then to do the same for Taylor in another paragraph. Synthesis is all about finding connections and themes that tie your two topics together, and explaining these themes to your readers.  

Curation: Gathering Information to Inform Your Synthesis
The next step in your process is to select the articles you are going to evaluate for your literature review. You might feel a bit overwhelmed with all of this new information at your fingertips. But don’t despair. With some simple organizational strategies and a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish with your review of the literature, you can move seamlessly between the information gathering step to the information curating step. Once you have gathered the articles you will include in your literature review from the Walden University Library’s helpful resources, follow these steps as you go to save time and avoid headaches later.

Step 1 - Preread Articles:
A. Read the article’s abstract to gain a general understanding of the article’s contents.
B. Read the paragraph before the methodology section. In this paragraph, researchers will generally state their hypothesis, reiterate their research questions, or summarize their purpose for research. 
C. Scan all the headings throughout the article. This will give you an idea about the outline followed in the article, and a better understanding of the subtopics the researchers chose to investigate in their research. 
D. Read the first few paragraphs under the last heading. These paragraphs often state major findings. 

Step 2 - Get Organized:
A. Group your articles into categories that correspond to different themes you plan to present in your review. 
B. It may seem old-fashioned, but colored post-it notes can help you keep track of different themes in your text. Stock up on post-notes or on highlighters, or become familiar with your Word processor’s tools for highlighting text in different colors. Beth has some great tips for refining your note-taking techniques.
C. Download and fill in your Literature Review Matrix. This organizational resource will help you make note of important information from each of your sources that will come in handy later in your literature review process. This step is time consuming now, but it will help you save time later.

Step 3 - Answer Questions:
A. What theoretical or conceptual framework was posed in this article? What are the key definitions and areas of exploration? 
B. What were the research questions and hypotheses? 
C. What methodology did the researcher follow? Is this a qualitative or quantitative study? 
D. What did the analysis reveal? Were there any surprising finds? 
E. What did the researchers conclude? Was their hypothesis correct? Were all the research questions answered? 
F. What are the implications for future research? Did you identify gaps in research? Tim has some great tips to help you identify gaps in research
G. What are the implications for practice in this field? 

As you read and evaluate your sources, keep handy your Literature Review Matrix and fill it out as you go. Take your research one article as a time, and know when it’s time to take a break. Your highlighters will be waiting for your return. In this blog post, you've learned about synthesis and about how to organize the information you'll use to build your literature review. Do you feel comfortable? If you have any more questions about these steps in the literature review process, I would love to hear them!  

Join us next week for Jes’ post about organizing your literature review, and learn what to do with all the information you plugged in to your literature review matrix.


And if you're curious to learn more about how you can utilize the Lit Review Matrix, click the player and check out this WriteCast podcast episode. Here, Beth and Brittany discuss even more ways to stay organized:

For more information about WriteCast, and to check out all of our episodes and transcripts, check out the WriteCast page on our website! 


Nicole Townsend is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has worked in writing centers for ten years, with an interest in individualizing support for diverse student populations. While Nicole also enjoys editorial work and teaching English as an adjunct professor, her passion is for the foundation of collaboration embedded in writing center best practices. 



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March Webinar Update

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Hi there, students! For March we have some more informative webinars for you. Read on to see what to expect (and when) this month.
Kaleidoscopic image with Webinar Update printed over top

For those of you who may not be familiar, webinars are hour-long interactive lectures which are recorded. If you attend live, you can interact with the exercises throughout and ask questions for real-time responses! Otherwise, you can watch our webinar recordings through our archive.

This month we have some old favorites about grammar, paraphrasing, APA, and a brand new webinar!

Practical Skills:Paraphrasing Source Information - Thursday, March 2, 7-8:00 pm ET
In this hands-on webinar, you’ll first learn what successful paraphrasing is and then practice paraphrasing to ensure you are developing this essential academic writing skill.

Attend this in-depth webinar to brush up on your grammar skills or learn new ones about compound and complex sentence structure. 

Synthesis and Thesis Development - Monday, March 13, 2-3:00 pm ET
Synthesis and thesis statements are central to academic writing; ensure you develop these components successfully in your writing with our tips. 

NEW! Successfully Writing Doctoral Capstone Abstracts - Thursday, March 23, 1-2:00 pm ET
Learn the Writing Center’s tips for successfully writing the abstract in your doctoral capstone. We recommend this webinar for doctoral capstone students. 

APA Formatting & Style: Beyond Citing Sources - Wednesday, March 29, 6-7:00 pm ET
Learn APA’s formatting and word choice rules to help you succeed in your writing! This webinar will cover topics like passive voice, anthropomorphism, headings, and number rules. 

If you can’t make it to these live presentations, check out our webinar archive for these and many other useful webinars on all things academic writing. We hope to see you this month!
 



The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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