Friday, 17 November 2017

The Laundry List Lit Review

My local PhD advisor has told me off for giving my power away in my writing by starting off a paragraph with "X says, and Y says", simply listing all the contributors to a field, ad nauseam. He was so right. Now that I know I do that, I am working hard on not doing it. 

To the left is one piece of writing to roughly illustrate what I mean. We don't lead with "Daft (2008) defines...". Instead we think about what we really want to say about what Daft told us, and what it means for our own argument and application of the idea. How Daft's knowledge contributes to our understanding of this concept. So we drop the quote, and talk about what the thing is that Daft wrote about. In this case it was about what mental models are, and how we use them. In my second paragraph, I am trying to give some history of the concept, but it is confusing. I had to ask myself if the reader really needed to know that. They didn't, so I chopped it.

This is what Professor Pat Thomson calls a the Laundry List (!) way of writing a Literature Review. The "Patter" blog post on avoiding the laundry list literature review will help all of us to restructure our work to let our potential contribution shine through in our writing. It is a five star must-read (here).

Phew: but avoiding the laundry list makes writing harder. First I write the laundry list, because that is how I build argument. Then I have to rewrite the laundry list to say what I want to say. I need a new way to start writing!!!!

As my advisor pointed out, writing the non-laundry list way shows our confidence. It shows that we are exploring the field and starting to find our own ideas. We need to demonstrate that we are, as explorers, familiar enough with our territory to start making meaning from the contributions of others, and staking out our own niche. Not through unevidenced statements, but by carefully thought-through argument.

Hard work. But much better reading!



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  2. Hi there, the technical details are rather outside my area of expertise, but there is an article here - - that might provide you with some information to decide. Hope that helps!

  3. Sam Young you talk about The Laundry List Lit Review.The article you have posted is really informative and thanks for sharing it with us, I hope my apa generator skills get better after working the way you did. Great post!

  4. Thanks SK Jennifer! And thanks for the APA generator link. I see the link creates annotated bibliograhies: just be careful when using something like this for assignment work, as if your institution similarity scores your work, such mechanisms may increase your score.

    And keep an eye out, as there is an article coming up on this site about annotated bibliographies :-)

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  6. Great article - very helpful thanks

    1. Thanks Kaueli: glad you enjoyed it... and put it to use :-)


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