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Literature Review = Dinner Party with “Experts”

June 15, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

So Week 2 of MOOC-land is almost over. I’ll admit this week I’ve become dangerously close to being a drop-out statistic. Don’t get me wrong…I didn’t mean to not log in, not read, not post, and generally disappear but things got busy and World Cup started and I had a dinner party, changed my hairstyle, and did summer-life-stuff. And…to be completely honest I was a little turned off by this week’s topic, namely “Literature Review.”

I’ve never done a literature review but in my mind it seems like in order to do one you just have to sit and read and read and read some more and everything has to be dry and boring and “academic” and it will mostly turn into one giant slog-fest of boredom. “Experts” feel old, stuffy, and dated to me and while I know that’s both unfair and untrue to them…I still can’t quite erase the idea from my head.

And then everything changed…..

Fireworks! Magic!! Rainbows!!!! Happy Music!!!!

Well, not quite but…I did watch all the videos for the week and had a small epiphany. It turns out the Lit Review itself isn’t the boring, dated, snooze-fest I was thinking of it as, it’s really my own thoughts about it that are the issue. I’m so sorry Lit Review, turns out it really isn’t you, it’s all me.

Basically what the “experts” in the video said is first off, that the name itself is clunky and needs a major makeover. You’re not “reviewing” literature like you “review” a book in grade three. What you’re actually doing is “pulling up a chair” to the table of ideas. By doing this review, you are endeavoring to understand the debates that you and your brilliant question about about to be entering into.

In addition, when you do your lit review, you take the time to educate yourself on the strengths of the issues and also the subtle weaknesses that may be present. These weaknesses are your golden ticket into the issue as you use the slight fractures to show how you are very much both needed and part of the table conversation.

When you identify things to include in your lit review you think about notable scholars who have addressed your question and then consider trends in the industry on both a long and short term. In this way you will have a broad understanding of the field and see if your approach or methodology is one that is slightly different from what has been done before and can add to the topic. Without being informed, you do run the risk of spinning ideas in your head that you think are brilliant only to find out that it’s already been done, been proved wrong, etc. Yikes.

So….rather than think about my lit review as something boring and passive where I try to cram more info into my head endlessly, I’m going to ignore the tired language altogether and instead re-frame what will happen in the future as having a “dinner party with experts who are all hot to meet me and have this as the social event of the season on their calendars” Planning an academic literature review scares me to no end. Planning a dinner party? Exciting!!

Here’s how it will go:
After planning the right mix of ideas and right balance of fringe people with more middle of the line-ers, we will break bread, drink lots of wine, and tell stories and debate and laugh late into the night. And it will be pretty awesome and we’ll all be a little tipsy at the end of things but in a good way because we’ve been part of a community and remembered anew all the reasons why it’s not good to be alone. Oh, and the ideas will build and expand and develop in crazy good ways as we realize the connections we have, the friends of friends we have in common, and our communal synergy.  And then at the end of the night there will be calendars opened, contact info exchanged, and dates set for yet another feast.

And now, to decide on the guest list….

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