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Literature Reviews

A literature review is a unique entity among papers and essays. The “literature” would be sources of information on any given topic (i.e. editorial articles, journals, books, websites, traditional papers), and the “review” the compiling, examining, and discussion of these sources themselves. A literature review may stand alone or be used as part of a larger research paper as a sort of introduction.

Whereas a typical research paper would depend upon proper sources of information to support the writers’ thesis or main argument, a literature review is concerned with discussing the sources themselves, their validity, their meaning and value in that given field. The intriguing part of writing a literature review in terms of style is that it is written as an expository essay. It requires an introduction, body, and conclusion, and is therefore different from an annotated bibliography, which would be concerned only with commenting on an alphabetized list of sources.

Basically, this means that your literature review shouldn’t be a bunch of summaries tied together but rather a kind of argument that develops out of a discussion of your sources. A typical structure would contain an intro, body, and conclusion, and the body would focus on comments pertaining to:

• Historical background and previous research findings

• Recent developments in the field

• Areas up for debate/areas in need of closer examination

• Areas of agreement; leading authorities’ views

• Varying approaches on the subject

• Qualitative analyzes of the subject.

The literature review may be organized based on chronological research and shifting opinions over time, a theme concerning varying opinions within the field, the methods through which research has been conducted, or a review concerned with proving gaps or illogical research within the field. A last helpful note: A literature review is NOT primarily about you or your relationship to the literature. Therefore, a literature review should NOT be organized as a narrative of your own research process.

Logical Fallacies

Logical Fallacies

  1. Hasty generalization: Conclusion not logically justified by sufficient or unbiased evidence.
  2. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Literally, “after this, therefore because of this.” Just because Event B occurred after Event A does not mean that A necessarily caused B.
  3. Genetic fallacy: Arguing that the origins of a person, object, or institution determine its character, nature, or worth. Like the post hoc fallacy, the genetic fallacy is an error in causal relationships.
  4. Begging the question: Loading the conclusion in the claim. Arguing that “pornography should be banned because it corrupts our youth” is a logical claim. However, saying that “filthy and corrupting pornography should be banned is begging the question: The conclusion that the writer should prove (that pornography corrupts) is assumed in the claim.
  5. Circular argument: A sentence or argument that restates rather than proves.
  6. Either/or: An oversimplification that reduces alternatives to only two choices, thereby creating a false dilemma. Statements such as “Love it or leave it” attempt to reduce the alternatives to two. If you don’t love your school, your town, or your country, you don’t have to leave: A third choice is to change it and make it better. Proposed solutions frequently have an either/or fallacy.
  7. Faulty comparison or analogy: Basing an argument on a comparison of two things, ideas, events, or situations that are similar but not identical. Although comparisons or analogies are often effective in argument, they can hide logical problems. The point is not to avoid comparisons or analogies. Simply make sure that your conclusions are qualified; acknowledge the differences between the two things compared as a well as the similarities.
  8. Ad hominem (literally, “to the man”): An attack on the character of the individual or the opponent rather than his or her actual opinions, arguments, or qualifications.
  9. Ad populum (literally, “to the people”): An emotional appeal to positive concepts (God, mother, country, liberty, democracy, apple pie) or negative concepts (fascism, treason, atheism) rather than a direct discussion of the real issue.
  10. Red herring and straw man: Diversionary tactics designed to avoid confronting the key issue. Red herring refers to the practice of dragging a smelly fish across the trail to divert tracking dogs away from the real quarry. A red herring occurs when writers avoid countering an opposing argument directly. In the straw man diversion, the writer sets up an artificially easy argument to refute in place of the real issue. Avoid red herring and straw man tactics by either refuting an argument directly or acknowledging that it has some merit.

APA Style

In-Text Citations

Using in-text citations will help your readers to know where your information is coming from and how current that information happens to be. Here are a few examples of how to cite sources in your text using APA style:


According to Jones (1998), “Students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time” (p. 199). Jones (1998) found “students often had difficulty using APA style” (p. 199); what implications does this have for teachers?

She stated, “Students often had difficulty using APA style,” but she did not offer an explanation as to why (Jones, 1998, p. 199).


According to Jones (1998), APA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners.
APA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners (Jones, 1998, p. 199).

Notice that the author’s last name, the date of publication, and the page number are key to getting this right. The examples above show you a couple of ways that you can incorporate these three important pieces of information.

The Writing Studio can help you to smoothly incorporate your sources and to troubleshoot more difficult sources to cite. You can also go online to Web sites like the Online Writing Lab at Purdue to help you find answers to your APA questions.

Reference Pages

Here’s how to create a reference page in APA style. A reference page is what people will often call a bibliography. The sample reference page below has an example of a book, a Web site, a magazine article, an online newspaper article, an annual report, and a print newspaper article (in that order). Here’s how they look when put together:


Calfee, R. C., & Valencia, R. R. (1991). APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, DC:     American Psychological Association.

Health Canada. (2002, February). The safety of genetically modified food crops. Retrieved from     /english/protection/biologics_genetics/gen_mod_foods/genmodebk.html

Henry, W. A., III. (1990, April 9). Making the grade in today’s schools. Time, 135, 28-31.

Parker-Pope, T. (2008, May 6). Psychiatry handbook linked to drug industry. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Petro-Canada. (2007). Opportunities tomorrow. Performance today: Annual report 2007. Retrieved from AnnualReport_en_2007.pdf

Schultz, S. (2005, December 28). Calls made to strengthen state energy policies. The Country Today, pp. 1A, 2A.


In APA style, presentations, personal communication, and e-mails are not considered recoverable information, so you don’t include them in the references page. However, you can include them in your paper. If you think of the writing studio director as a guest speaker you would like to cite, here’s how:

Brian Fallon noted that the Writing Studio can help us to learn more about APA style and is open 9-9 Monday-Friday, 1-4 on Saturday, and 5-9 on Sunday in room C612 (personal communication, March 1, 2014).

Art/Design Statements

Writing can be a significant part of any artist’s design process and can help you to develop sophisticated ways to articulate the significance of your work, your personal perspective and your aesthetic. 

Design Philosophy/Artist Statements

 Artists and designers often write statements that offer admirers of their work greater insight into the collection/portfolio, the design process of the artist, or what inspires the artist. Some of these statements are about a page and others are as short as a paragraph. You have to decide what works best for you and for your readers.  Either way, they need to be concise, yet meaningful.  Man Bartlett’s video (second down on the right) gives you an idea of how some artists choose to discuss their work and process.

Here are some questions that can help you build your own design philosophy/artist statement:

  • What inspires you as a designer?
  • What drives your design process?
  • What’s important to you as a designer?
  • What’s the theme or story behind your collection/portfolio?
  • How does that theme or story influence how you designed this collection/portfolio?
  • As a designer, what point are you trying to express through your collection/portfolio?

Maya Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC while she was in college and won a nation-wide competition for her work (see video top right). She believes her design was chosen over others in part due to the essay she wrote to accompany it. Writing can be a significant part of any artist’s design process and can help you to develop sophisticated ways to articulate the significance of your work, your personal perspective and your aesthetic.


There are a number of ways you can respond to other texts. Three basic types of response that you will probably use most often are agree/disagree, interpretive, and analytical. The reality of responding may require that you use more than one of these types when writing a thorough response. A good response will reflect on and evaluate the information that you are writing about. Furthermore, effective responses pay careful attention to evidence, meaning that you should be certain to support your response with evidence like personal experiences, examples from the text, or examples from other texts or studies.

Agree/Disagree Response

Writers almost always find that they agree or disagree with other writers’ ideas. In this type of response, it’s your job to consider why you either agree or disagree or both with particular points another writer is making and then to explain to your audience your point of view. An agree/disagree response is not an opportunity to make unsupported claims. You will have to develop reasons for why you agree/disagree using evidence.

Interpretive Response

 Good writers are also good at interpreting what other writers mean. Part of this is because interpretation requires you to imagine possible reasons for the choices that other writers make. Writing an interpretive response can be difficult because you have to think carefully about the kinds of things that might be motivating and directing another writer. This mean that you might have to speculate what another writer’s beliefs are or consider the what they seem to be implying by their arguments. Again, relying on evidence can be helpful in creating a solid and interesting interpretive response.

Analytical Response

Most writers will have to do some analysis at some point in their academic career. Like the interpretive response, Analyzing another writer’s text can help you to learn more about the writer’s intentions, but more than likely, it will help you to develop a better sense of whether or not the text is effective. In order to analyze a text, you might have to think carefully about specific elements: who’s the audience? what’s the main purpose of the text? what type of evidence does the writer use? An analysis might also have you take a close look at the writers tone or style or you might think about how the writer organized their argument. Overall, an analytical response provides your readers with a better understanding of how a text functions and how it attempts to communicate issues to an audience.



There are several different kinds of summaries, but one of the most common is the key point summary. An effective summary provides a fair, accurate, and objective overview of another writer’s text. Your job as the writer of a summary is to provide your readers with the most significant and pertinent information from the original source. Here are some guides to drafting an effective key point summary:

  1. Include the author and title information from the source you are summarizing: “John Smith’s 2009 article entitled ‘Office Antics’ is a study of the leading causes of an unproductive work environment.”
  2. Include the author’s main purpose for writing: “Smith contends that most offices can prevent poor productivity by paying attention to commonsense issues such as avoiding laziness, procrastination, and gossip in the workplace.”
  3. Provide several key points from the text that are essential for your readers to understand the arguments, perspectives, or ideas presented in the text. You should provide the key details involved in the text and/or outline the evidence that the author uses: “Smith describes an office setting where just a handful of lazy people negatively influence the overall productivity of the department. He argues that nearly 76% of office blunders are due to laziness.”
  4. Finish your summary with a statement that expresses the overall point of the text and attempts to recap the conclusion of the original text:  “Ultimately, John Smith suggests that companies take advantage of a number of seminars that are available to help employees become more aware of how to avoid pitfalls and increase efficiency in the work place.”

Some important summary writing tips to keep in mind:

Although you can use quotations in a summary, it may be a better option to paraphrase information from the original text. Paraphrasing is putting the author’s language into your own words. This can be a difficult task, but the best way to do it is to talk through the author’s ideas with other people until you have internalized them. After going through this process, it should be much easier for you to write a summary using your own words.

It is also important to use author tags. An author tag is when you use the author’s last name to attribute information to the author. For example, you might write, “Smith found that laziness resulted in 76% of office blunders.” Using the author tag “Smith” allows you to clarify that the information, data, or opinion comes from the author and not from you, the summarizer.

Overall, be fair and objective. A summary is not the appropriate writing situation to add your opinion. It is your job as the writer to provide an accurate and condensed account of the original text.