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Evidence-Based Teaching of Literature Review Writing

Principal Investigator (PI): Assoc Prof Christopher Khoo

Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI): Dr Sujata Surinder Kathpalia

Collaborators: Kokil Jaidka

Funding Agency: MOE TRF

Start Date: Mar 2016

End Date: On-going

Abstract: The literature review is an important and pervasive type of academic writing. Students have to include a literature review in term papers, project reports, research proposals and dissertations. A literature review is more than just a summary of previous research on a particular topic. It is difficult to write a good literature review as it requires critical thinking, argumentation and writing skills. The process of literature review writing includes assessing and selecting relevant information from previous research papers, integrating the information (e.g., comparing and generalizing reported research results), synthesizing arguments to justify the current research, and presenting the arguments in coherent and persuasive text.

It is difficult to teach literature review writing because of the different types of intellectual activities and skills involved. Though there are many textbooks on academic report writing and literature review writing, they provide only general guidelines and there is no study of the effectiveness of such materials. There is surprisingly no systematic study of how experienced writers write literature reviews, and few studies of the linguistic, informational and argumentative characteristics of good literature reviews. There is also no reported study of student’s literature review writing and the effectiveness of writing programmes. Instructors of report writing need more resources in the form of best-practice patterns and examples, and online or computerized diagnostic aids, to give detailed guidance to students.

Building on the authors’ previous work in analyzing the discourse structure of literature reviews in the field of information science, the project will carry out in-depth linguistic and content analyses of literature reviews published in top journals in three fields (sociology, biological science and mechanical engineering), to identify the linguistic, informational and argumentation strategies used. Based on the results of the analyses, pedagogical resources will be developed and made available online, including online catalogues of linguistic, informational and argumentative patterns found in good literature reviews. A computerized diagnostic tool (computer program) will be developed to make use of the catalogues of patterns to analyse student literature reviews, to compare their characteristics with those published literature reviews and suggest directions for improvement. Suitable evaluation metrics will be developed for use by the diagnostic tool. Finally, an evaluation study will be carried out where lessons on literature review writing (using the online resources and computerized diagnostic tool) will be developed. The new "evidence-based" teaching of literature review writing will be applied in the course titled Scientific Communication I which is a foundation academic writing course offered to students in the College of Science at NTU. The performance of the “treatment” group will be evaluated in comparison with a control group using the “traditional” method. The computerized diagnostic tool will be programmed with a teaching mode to provide computer-based instruction on selected steps of the literature review writing process.