Review Outline and Processes
As you've figured out by now, there are many steps to writing a review:
- Craft a Research Question
- Locate and Read Literature
- Create Organized Notes (e.g., annotated bibliography)
- Synthesize Information using an Outline or Concept Map
- Draft Paper
- Get Feedback
- Revise Paper
We're at the "synthesize information" point now. How do you put all this information together? The most important technique for you is to pre-write -- that is, to have a strategy in place whereby you sketch out the parts of the paper as unambiguously as possible. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, and most obvious, it to use an outline. Second, equally classic, is to create a concept map.
The traditional outline is hierarchically arranged -- the parts are ordered linearly from beginning to end and also ordered in terms of internal relationships (subordinating relationships). The basic idea here is good, but not so useful for a Review Paper whose body is not often organized linearly. Instead, Reviews are organized topically. The outline then should reflect the parts of the review and their function rather than solely the order items. Below is a template for the Introduction, any Body section, and the Conclusion. These parts can be filled in with phrases or whole sentences.
(Option: HERE is an outline for you to copy/paste into the word processing program of your choosing)
Introduction -- remember that the introduction immediately orients the reader to the topic; no fluff here! A working title is helpful for some people, detrimental for others. If a title helps focus your writing, then make one up now. If not, then skip it!
Body Sections -- the outline below is intended to help you organize your thoughts in a couple of different ways.
First, of course, is figuring out the main points that need to be made.
Second, since this is a Review paper, sources are equally important, so each section below also has room for writing in the associated literature. The easiest way to do this is to ennumerate your annotated bibliography (use numbers or letters) and write the associated numbers/letters in the correct spot.
Third, body sections tend to follow a general--> specific pattern. The first paragraph or two deals with the biggest ideas in that section and usually contains the most diverse set of associated literature. Two things tend to happen next. (see -- here -- for topic/author driven lesson)
One move is to exemplify the main ideas using individual studies. Thus, the pattern is to discuss the study and some of its main points, meaning only 1 or 2 sources will be used in the paragraph. These discussions are often made using author-driven sentences, e.g. "McConnel et al. found that drunk rats took signficiantly longer to make their way through the maze than rats injected with saline or rats high on amphematines, concluding that alcohol has a more detrimental effect on gross motor executive functioning (McConnel et al., 2010)".
Alternatively, you can narrow from the main explanation into a discussion of different facets of the topic itself. This also results in the narrowing of the literature to only a couple of sources. This kind of writing usually features topic-driven sentences, e.g. "Rats who had consumed the jello shots took significantly longer to navigate the maze than either their saline or amphetamine injected counterparts, suggesting alcohol has a more deleterious effect on gross motor executive functioning (McConnel et al., 2010)".
Exemplification and discussion can happen in either order; it depends on the paper. Also, you may not need to use both strategies. It could be that the way you're arranging the information only requires discussion OR exemplification. Please note that the "point 1" and "point 2" are just to get you started with the pattern -- you might have 3 main points, or 4. The same goes for all other sections -- the template is a suggestion to help you organize, not a plan set in stone!
Conclusions -- here is where you bring the whole Review together for some final commentary. There are 3 parts to a Review conclusion.
First, there should be a concise summary. (Did I say concise? I really meant that.) Ideally, each section of the body gets a SINGLE sentence of summary. Your task as the writer is to pull out the main, "take away" idea and write it one last time. The reader can always go back to the text if they need to.
Second, you should provide some evaluation or critique. This may be very mild (e.g. "There are still many unanswered questions in this area") or quite direct (e.g. "X treatment has a clear record of unacceptable toxicity and should be used only as a last resort, if used at all").
Third, you should provide a final statement regarding the future of this topic -- What should come next? What sort of research should be done? Is it time for application of some kind? Again, this statement can vary from the very general (e.g. "More research is warranted") to more specific (e.g. "Clinical practitioners must be informed about the dangers of using treatment X, especially given its prevalent name in TV advertising. Clearly, more research in alternatives Y and Z should be undertaken to safeguard the long-term health of patients with Condition A").
There are many different programs for creating concept maps. Mostly, I find the software intrusive because it's harder to use than a paper and pencil (always choose the technology that best matches your need!). However, three programs have recently emerged as being easier to use. And all have "freemium" versions where you can create a store your work online. Creately is a program that allows you to easily generate a concept map. My difficulty with most of these sorts of programs is that you have to know the structure of the map before you begin building it, which doesn't help much with the discovery process. But Creately makes it easy, so if you like to draw up the image first, this is a terrific program to try. Another program where the free version lets you build from the map is Wisdomap.com -- this is the one I've been using in class (here is an assignment page). Wisdomap has the additional advantage of a right side bar for notes and a media bar where you can add links, video, etc. Alternatively, if you have an outline in mind but are a text-oriented person, then Text 2 Map is for you. Text2Map lets you build a hierarchical concept map using tabs and such, just as you would in any word processing program. Hit a button, and the program generates the map. If you change your mind or revise the map, then all you have to do is change the text to generate a fresh version.
Getting Feedback -- The Promise and Peril of Peer Review
Peer Review is the honored tradition of having a fellow expert evaluate your work for its contribution to science. While Peer Review as a filtering process is controversial, peer review as an editing process is not! In fact, it's a downright intelligent strategy. Ideally, you should have 2 kinds of peer reviewers in your writing arsenal: 1) a content-savvy reviewers; 2) a writing/reading-savvy reviewers. The content-savvy reviewer has knowledge very near your own and can help you catch unintended mistakes or points of confusion with regard to ideas/evidence from the discipline's point of view. The literacy-savvy reviewer, however, is someone with strong analytical reading/writing skills who can point out points of confusion due to style/writing choices. These are rarely the same person!
In class, our process is as follows. Read through the review once, without evaluating or commenting, to get a sense of the article's content and purpose. Then reread it again carefully, paying attention to the article's structure and organization, putting comments or queries next to strong or weak sections/sentences, and correcting mechanical errors where necessary. Now answer the questions below fully, offering suggestions where possible.
- Is the title appropriate, succinct, and interesting?
- Does the intro. convince you that this is a significant and worthwhile topic of study? Where?
- By the end of the introduction, are you clear about the purpose of the review and its direction ? Is there a "roadmap" that shows you where you are going as you read?
- Is the review arranged historically or topically? Does this seem appropriate?
- If the review is arranged topically, are subheadings used to introduce different groups of studies? Do these sections seem logically organized?
- Does the discussion seem comprehensive and thorough? Are the findings compared and contrasted, and the studies evaluated fairly?
- Are you clear about the direction you are going in as you are reading, and is the logic of development helpful and unified? Do you get lost anywhere, and if so, where?
- Does the reviewer integrate and address the various groups of research as a group as an overview? Does he/she evaluate the most and least promising directions of the studies?
- Does the review end with suggestions for future research, based on all the studies?