Integrating Others’ Concepts and Ideas Into Your Own Writing
The process of integrating the literature is one of turning information into personal knowledge.
This diagram emphasises the learning process that occurs in integrating the key sources of information. Producing a coherent and critical review of the literature demonstrates that you have a good understanding of the relevant research and key issues related to your topic.
Transforming information into your personal knowledge is about foregrounding your own “voice”. A scholarly voice is developed and refined over time. The key is to critically engage with the main ideas in your discipline, your assessment tasks, and your research topic.
Ways to critically engage with the main ideas in your discipline, your assessment tasks, and your research topic include:
- Thinking of this as assimilating ideas into your own knowledge bank rather than being assimilated by forces outside of your control.
- Using your reading to back up the information/argument that you are constructing – the “backfilling” approach rather than the more dangerous practice of pasting in quotations and paraphrasing in a more myopic way that risks staying too close to the original.
Ways to critically engage with the main ideas in your discipline also include:
- Breaking down key concepts and often complex ideas to show you understand them (this is what analysis means) – and even at a doctoral level you can demonstrate you understand key complex concepts that are relevant to your topic by “unpacking” them and simplifying them.
- Developing your own “voice” by making the most out of the references you draw upon – mostly summarised and paraphrased – but when using direct quotations, “milking them to the max”; in other words, elaborating:
- “unpacking” or “teasing out”
There are three main strategies available to draw on the words of others. The key is to use a combination of these strategies to build a synthesised account of the literature.
These three main strategies are:
- Quoting – the author’s exact words copied directly from the source
- Paraphrasing – putting the author’s thoughts into your own words
- Summarising – a broad overview of one or a number of authors’ main ideas.
Each of these will be explained below.
Note that all of these require in-text citation and documentation on the Reference List.
Quotations should be used sparingly – so note your discipline’s style guide. In the Health Sciences, the APA Style Guide recommends minimal use of direct quotations, especially longer ones. In many science areas, no direct quotations are used.
Direct quotations are used when:
- You want to add the power of an author’s words to support your argument
- You want to disagree with an author’s argument
- You are comparing and contrasting specific points of view
- You want to highlight particularly powerful or effective phrases.
Always copy verbatim – that is, always copy exactly what the author has written.
This includes spelling – for example, American or English.
Indicate omitted words with ellipses (…).
Indicate editorial intrusion with square brackets [ ].
Use [sic] to indicate errors that may appear in the original.
The following is an example of a direct quote in Chicago Style:
In The Intellectual Life: Its Spirits, Conditions, and Methods, Sertillanges (1978, 145) asserts:
“We never think entirely alone: we think in company, in a vast collaboration; we work with the workers of the past and of the present. [In] the whole intellectual world…each one finds in those about him [sic] the initiation, help, verification, or information he [sic] needs.”
In most instances, you will use a combination of summarising and paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is used for key short pieces of information. There is no point in paraphrasing a whole paragraph.
Use paraphrasing when:
- You want to use your own “voice” to present information
- You want to incorporate the author’s ideas into your own writing
- You want to avoid over-quotation.
Go to Activity One on the right-hand side of the screen to see an example of paraphrasing.
Much of your literature review will involve identifying the key points from articles and summarising the main findings relevant to your topic or problem or question.
- You want to establish the background to a topic
- You want to offer an overview of a topic
- You want to describe common knowledge from several sources about a topic
- You want to communicate the main ideas of a single source.
Go to Activity Two on the right-hand side of the screen to see an example of summarising.
It is vital to bring together a range of studies relevant to your research topic or question by comparing and contrasting them, and by positioning them in relation to your study.
One systematic way of working towards a more synthesised account of a range of studies’ findings is to map the common themes or concepts from a range of articles onto a grid such as the one shown in Activity Three.
Go to Activity Three on the right-hand side of the screen to see an example of mapping common themes.
A concept map or theoretical framework can be a simple and productive way of graphically mapping out the core elements of your field of study (broader) and research question (tighter parameters). The relationships between the key elements you identify will help you to understand how you need to order and make the necessary links in your literature review.
This mapping process is a way of making it your account, your “story” – not what another researcher would write, or even your supervisor.
Make it your own by framing and mapping out the “picture”, and then add detail and colour by incorporating the literature in a way that clearly demonstrates you have a good understanding of your field.
This image is meant to capture the broad field of study (Western Australia) – too broad and complex to cover in its entirety. Some contextual reference may be made to the broad field, but a research project requires a more focused review of the literature related to a specific topic within this broad field: in this case, Harmony Fields. In other words, parameters must be set (based on a well-defined research question) to ensure the research is ‘do-able’ and so the literature related to this specific topic is the most relevant work to be considered in detail.
Have you noticed how the following metaphors are commonly used when referring to literature reviews?
- “Telling the story”
- The “field”.
The challenge of a narrative literature review is to write your own account, your own story about the field of study, related to your research question.
If there is a literature review in an article or thesis on a topic very close to yours, do not be too fixated on it, but rather identify the key material in it that applies to your research question or hypothesis, and “start from scratch.”
This is your critical review of the literature focused on your research question; it is not another researcher’s literature review; it is not your supervisor’s literature review.
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