Finding your voice as a writer:
navigating the literature review
14 June 2012
Why do you need a literature ‘review’?
• Joining a conversation…
• …or pointing to a need to start a new one
• Locating your research within a wider body of relevant
• Pointing to a gap in the field or a space into which your
research can speak
• Finding your voice among the voices of others
Knowing whose voice is speaking is the beginning of
finding one’s own voice (Bernstein 2000)
• Indicating that you know who’s who in the
conversation/debate you are joining
So how do you find your voice?
• Know your argument – what you want to say and
what you main question is – write it down in as
simple and clear language as you can
• Keep the central question or argument you are
making in mind when you read other articles –
keeps you focused
• Ask yourself: “what is my article about?” And
then write about it using ‘I’ – ‘I think’; ‘I believe
that’; ‘my argument is’
• What are you saying that is different or new or
adds to the conversation?
Why is your voice so important?
• What are journal editors looking for when they
review articles for publication?
• What sets ‘grad student papers’ apart from
• A writer who has a clear voice, and can call on
others to support their arguments, has a better
chance of being reviewed than one who leans on
other writers, obscuring their own voice.
• You need to be able to show how what you are
saying contributes to the field you are writing into
• Look at the following readings and skim
through the intro and initial ‘lit review’
• Can you clearly locate the writer in the text?
• Do they have authority in the text?
• What gives them this authority, for you?
• How is the writer using the sources they’ve
chosen in relation to their own arguments?
Some useful tools
• A reading journal:
– When you read any article/book chapter, read it all
the way through the first time – don’t stop at things
you don’t understand
– Then on a clean piece of paper, write the full
reference and then write to yourself about what was
interesting or related to your topic, and what else it
made you think of etc
– Then go back and read again and work out all the
tough bits – make more detailed notes if you need to
Some useful tools
• A research journal:
– Like a diary, except about your work
– The muse can be unpredictable – keeping a
journal can help you track your ‘research journey’
– Write about ideas, new connections you are
making, links you can draw between different
parts of your research
– Write as if you are writing to someone else – that
way when you come back it will make sense to
Keep working on it - reading and
• The more you read (as we tell our students) the more
the language becomes yours and the more able you
are to use other voices to support yours, rather than
create a ‘patchwork quilt’
• Reading journals are a good way of doing small chunks
often enough that you feel like you are reading and
writing often; research journals are also a way of
keeping the work going even if it’s not ‘writing’
• The more you read and write the easier it gets to keep
going towards this literature review and others after it
– the longer you pause, the harder it is to get back into
“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It
reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely
domesticated, a mustang on which you one
day fastened a halter, but which now you
cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your
study. As the work grows, it gets harder to
control; it is a lion growing in strength. You
must visit it every day and reassert your
mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are,
quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
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