The Literature Review

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Contribution to Books

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Have you ever wondered why those academic articles you read for your research projects seem to begin with a list of the other people who've talked about the same ideas? Somewhere in the first few pages you find a section that seems to list everyone who's ever had anything to say about the subject of, say, Charlotte Bronte or quantum physics. This who's who list, though, is actually a common academic convention called the "literature review". In it a writer reviews or summarizes what has already been said about his research question and then offers an analysis of it. This move is very similar to what we do when we're relaying a conversation we had with friends: "You know how Margy and Joan have always disagreed about _________? Well, at lunch the other day we were talking about _________ and Margy said, '_________'. Then Joan said, '_________.' I couldn't believe it--they never agree on anything. But both of them believed Mark when he said, '_________,' and now we've decided to do something about it." We're usually careful to let our audience know who said what so no one is confused, especially if our audience doesn't know much about what our friends believe about a subject.

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