The Internet TESL Journal

Teaching TESOL Undergraduates to Organize and Write Literature Reviews

Roberto Criollo
rcriollo [at] hotmail.com
Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Puebla, Pue., Mexico)
This paper presents an application of Genre Analysis on academic writing instruction. More specifically, techniques and steps for enabling ESF/EFL learners to organize and develop literature reviews are presented and explained.

Introduction

Academic writing is usually regarded as one of the most demanding and complicated tasks in higher education. The problem becomes doubled when the writing needs to be done in a language that is not our own (Almeida, 1984; Aghbar, 1990; Atatri, 1984a; Belcher, 1990; Cruickshank and Yates, 1990). In fact, most institutions in the United States comprise Language Centers where international and bilingual students are placed for remedial work in the language, especially in writing (Collier 1987 and 1989, Cummins 1981 and 1994). Academic writing is more difficult for nonnative undergraduate students because, unlike creative writing, academic writing is highly conventionalized and it comprises specific genres such as summaries, critiques, and research papers. These genres require knowledge of specific skills, vocabulary and discourse (Atkinson and Hedgcock, 1990; Bhatia, 1993; Belcher and Braine, 1994; Connor and Johns, 1989; Swales 1990).

Academic writing problems may be partly due to language proficiency. Studies on the performance of bilingual students by Collier (1987 and 1989) and Cummins (1981), suggest that while conversational skills can be acquired within two years of exposure to the language, academic skills may take from four to nine years. The fact is, however, that neither students nor teachers can wait for so long. For that reason, it is important to use an approach to academic writing instruction that maximizes students' knowledge and capacities and enables them to write academically and successfully. The approach and techniques that will be presented below are based on the concept of genre analysis (Swales 1990) and they have proven to be effective with undergraduate EFL learners.

Previous Considerations: American Psychological Association (APA) Style

Before writing, students should be aware that they will probably be required to use APA Style in their literature review. The term "APA style" refers to a standardized way of citing references in the text and in the list of references at the end of a research paper. As the purpose of this paper is not to explain APA conventions, the reader/teacher should refer to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. If a style other than APA is used, this should also be taught first.

Developing the Literature Review from an Outline

Students must be aware that the main communicative function of a Literature Review is to present the theoretical framework of a study, based on the information that has been collected about a problem. In other words, they need to write about: In order for them to be able to collect and organize all the information necessary, students can start from this outline (Ask them to arrange items in three or four columns):
  1. Specific concepts, theories, and variables related to the problem.
  2. heir point of view about the topic.
  3. Different authors' points of view about the topic (either supporting or refuting students' points of view)
  4. What is known about the problem from other empirical studies (i.e. results of research, also supporting or refuting own points of view).

Developing the Outline

It is very easy to have students develop paragraphs for the literature review from the outline that they wrote. The first step towards this is to show them the model below.

Structure of a Paragraph in the Literature Review

A concept is introduced / A point is made (topic sentence) + It is supported with references or previous research results + More support is added + If there is information refuting (contradicting) the point made, it is added + More negative evidence is added, if there is + The different points of view are compared and contrasted + A conclusion (restating the topic sentence) is drawn.
To illustrate this paragraph model, teachers can show the following example.

Exercise: Read the following paragraph and try to find the structure above. Determine to what extent they follow this model and state whether you see some differences.

Paragraph Topic: Learning Styles

In order to understand best the importance of learning styles in the language classroom, it is first important to provide a definition of what learning styles are. Reid (1995) defines learning style as "an individual's natural, habitual, and preferred way(s) of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information ands skills". In a similar way, Brown (2000) states that every person has their own natural way to perceive, transform, learn, and possess knowledge and information in their environment. Using a narrower concept, Larsen-Freeman & Long (1991, p. 192) define ?cognitive style' as "the preferred way in which learners process information or address a task". Their definition is limited in that, as will be seen when a classification of learning styles is given (Reid 1995), there are learning styles that do not depend on cognitive processes. Finally, it is important to mention that learning styles will not vary across teaching methods and content areas, they will persist (Reid 1995 and 1998); and, even though they develop gradually in children, they are supposed to be more or less permanent in adults (Brown 2000). It can then be concluded that learning styles are the somewhat permanent ways in which learners perceive, process, and understand the information around them.


After having introduced to learners to the rhetorical organization of literature review paragraph, the next step is to have them do a guided writing exercise.

Paragraph Writing Practice: Look at the sample outline below. Read the information carefully and develop it into a paragraph. Remember to use the structure outlined above.

CONCEPTS FROM OUTLINE NOTES FROM BOOKS YOUR POINT OF VIEW
2.2 Defining Syllabus "Description of the contents of a course of instruction and the order in which they are to be taught" (Richards et al. 1992, p. 368).

Nunan (1988a) "syllabus is seen as being concerned essentially with the selection and grading of content, while methodology is concerned with the selection of learning tasks and activities".

Widdowson (1984, p. 26) defines syllabus as a general plan of activities that can be applied in a class to facilitate the learning process.

Yalden (1984, p. 14): syllabus is considered as an instrument by means of which the teacher can achieve a degree of accomplishment between needs and social or individual actions in the class.

A syllabus is useful because it specifies the content of the course to be taught.

Learners can then compare their work with the model paragraph below:

Paragraph: Defining Syllabus

A second term of interest for this project is that of syllabus. Broadly, syllabus has been defined as the "description of the contents of a course of instruction and the order in which they are to be taught" (Richards et al. 1992, p. 368). Nunan (1988a) agrees with this view, stating that "syllabus is seen as being concerned essentially with the selection and grading of content, while methodology is concerned with the selection of learning tasks and activities". From these definitions, it is apparent that syllabus is the part of a curriculum that deals with the content and sequencing of the courses within the program. Thus, syllabus is subordinated to curriculum. On the other hand, according to Yalden (1984, p. 14), syllabus is considered as an instrument by means of which the teacher can achieve a degree of accomplishment between needs and social or individual actions in the class. In yet a further definition, Widdowson (1984, p. 26) defines syllabus as a general plan of activities that can be applied in a class to facilitate the learning process. In general, it can now be concluded that syllabus is a part of the curriculum that concerns the selection and sequencing of content to be taught in a language program.

Expressing One's Point of View & Achieving Coherence

One of the most important things learners have to consider in their literature review has to do with having a point of view. The outline will help them develop and clearly state their main points, but they need much more than that. They will need to use words that express relationships between different items of information. Swales and Feak (1994) provide the following list of connectors and their meanings (modified to show punctuation).

Sentence Connectors

Table 1: Academic English Connectors and Their Meaning (Adapted from Swales and Feak 1994)

Subordinators Sentence Connectors Phrase Linkers
Addition   Furthermore, ...
In addition, ...
Moreover, ...
In addition to..., ...
Adversative ..., although
Although ..., ...
Even though ____, ...
Despite the fact that..
However, ...
Nevertheless, ...
Despite ..., ...
In spite of ..., ...
Cause and Effect ...because...
Since..., ...
..., since ...
Therefore, ...
As a result, ...
Consequently, ...
..., hence...
Thus, ...
Because of...
Due to...
As a result of...
Clarification   In other words, ...
That is, ...
i.e., ...
 
Contrast While ..., ...
..., whereas ...
In contrast, ...
However, ...
On the other hand, ...
Conversely, ...
Unlike ... , ...
Illustration   For example, ...
For instance, ...
 
Intensification   On the contrary, ...
As a matter of fact, ...
In fact, ...
 

Uses of Connectors

Different points of view can be taken and different arguments can be built from any given piece of information, depending on which part is emphasized or de-emphasized. This is a matter of deciding on one's stance and then using the appropriate logical connectors that help express this position. This can be demonstrated by showing them the example below.
Information: John is very old and ugly, John is filthy rich. No point of view ? John is very old, ugly, and filthy rich.

Different Points of View Using Connectors:

  • John is old and ugly. However , he is filthy rich
  • John is filthy rich. Nevertheless , he is old and ugly.
  • Despite the fact that John is old and ugly, women love him because he is filthy rich.
  • John has some qualities, for example , he is filthy rich. On the other hand , he has the unwanted characteristics of being old and ugly.
  • While Peter is young and handsome, John is old and ugly. In fact , John's appearance is disgusting.
  • Unlike John, who is filthy rich, Peter is an abbreviated piece of nothing. As a result , women prefer John.
  • John is filthy rich and, although he is old and ugly, women love him.
  • We could come up with endless examples looking at the same information from different points of view. At this point students will be ready to do some exercises related to actual theory.

    Using Connectors to Express One's Point of View about the Literature

    In the following exercises, students are asked to manipulate the information to express different points of view, using support from sources.

    Exercise with Connectors

    Point to be made: Explaining the construct of writing ability.

    Information from Bibliography:

  • Lexico-grammatical ability - the ability to use correct structures and vocabulary (Hadley 1993).
  • Cognitive ability - the ability to self-consciously use linguistic and intellectual resources (Bartholomae and Petrosky, 1986; Elbow, 1990; Nelson, 1991; Reid, 1993; Shaughnessy, 1977).
  • Discourse ability - The ability to organize one's ideas in a cohesive and coherent manner (Scarcella and Oxford, 1992)
  • Sociolinguistic ability - the ability to use language that is appropriate in a social context (Scarcella and Oxford 1992)
  • Additional Information: All these abilities seem to be inextricably linked. Some people organize them into the broader concept of ?communicative competence' (Scarcella and Oxford, 1992).

    Task: Using connectors, write several sentences where you take different positions.

  • Simply explain the components of the reading ability construct.
  • Compare and contrast different abilities, then
  • Emphasize the importance of grammatical ability over cognitive ability.
  • Emphasize the importance of cognitive ability over grammatical ability.
  • Emphasize the importance of discourse and sociolinguistic ability.
  • Explain the importance of all the elements and their relations.
  • Integrating Ideas from Sources

    Handling and presenting information from different sources can be really difficult. Students must know that: Below is a list of common verbs and expressions students can use to cite the authors' work.

    Verbs:

    Phrases:

    Expressions Referring to Previous Research:

    Final Considerations

    Finally, students should edit their literature review. Have them revise their paragraphs for singleness of topic, cohesion, and coherence. Similarly, have them make sure that there are clear links between the different sentences, paragraphs, and sections of their literature reviews by providing logical connectors. Students can use some of the strategies below to ensure coherence:

    The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 4, April 2003
    http://www.tpcul.com/
    http://www.tpcul.com/Techniques/Criollo-LitReview.html
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