Common errors in writing a literature review
Purpose of task within the course:
To heighten awareness of what makes for a good and a bad literature review.
Read each example below. Since literature reviews are by their nature focussed on the specific
content of the research of particular studies it is difficult to choose examples that are general
enough for everyone to follow who has no special knowledge of the content area. However the
ones below I hope are accessible to anyone without specialist knowledge of EFL writing,
vocabulary research etc....
For each example, say what you think the supervisor's comment was. Note that the
comments range from really serious points to small details. In some examples you may
find more than one comment to make
Can you see good as well as bad points?
Suggest an improved version.
1) A dissertation on the strategies used by Arabic learners of English in Saudi Arabia writing
both in Arabic and in English has a lit review (ch 2) divided into these four main subsections:
2.2 Research on English L1 writing
2.3 Studies on ESL writing processes
2.4 Studies on EFL writing processes
2) A dissertation on Taiwanese students' speaking provides a review of literature .... under the
following subtitles: (1) background information of language learning strategies which this
research is relied on, (2) background information of speaking strategies derived from language
learning strategies, (3) background information of communication strategies, (4) What makes a
good language learner?, and (5) summary.
It later relies for its data on a questionnaire which, after gathering some background information
about the participants, asks them questions in two major headed sections: a) Your problems and
how you solve them while speaking in conversation, b) Things you do on your own to improve
your speaking proficiency.
3) The thesis is about dictionary use by university level learners of English (and the later
questionnaire asks them about how often they use this and that type of dictionary):
Section 188.8.131.52 reviews Different types of dictionary in terms of medium, and is subdivided as
184.108.40.206.1 Print dictionary
220.127.116.11.2 Hand-held electronic dictionary
18.104.22.168.3 CD, Internet , PC-based dictionaries
<... last paragraph of that third subsection runs...>
To sum up, we have seen that different types of dictionary have different features.... From
my point of view, print dictionaries are still the best choice for L2 learners for many
reasons. Firstly, HHE dictionary does not have enough information. Furthermore they are
not available to all students because of its high price........ The CD, Internet and PC-based
dictionaries have enough information but access to these dictionaries is not available to
the students every time since they need to have computer... In our stud y, we will
investigate all these types of dictionaries to see if the Saudi students use such kinds of
dictionaries and which type they are familiar, prefer, use more frequently.
1) A thesis on writing strategies of learners of English has a review of Studies on the sub-process
of writing, which states near the start:
The focus of much of the cognitive process research has been on individual sub-processes
such as planning, generating, revising, and editing. Hence, this section presents a review
of studies dealing with sub-processes of writing...
<There then follow one and a half pages on planning, half a page on generating, and two and a
half on revising.>
1) In a thesis on dictionary use referring to handheld electronic dictionaries:
The HHE dictionaries are more moveable than a dictionary-sized book and can supply
many items the quantity of information. Furthermore they can provide antonyms, idioms,
synonyms, as well as store dictionaries for several languages (Kent, 2001).
<13 lines later in the same paragraph...>
Zaher, Gupta and Olohan (1994) criticised HHE dictionaries because they do not exploit
fully the computer ability to process and display lexical information .... They cannot be
modified and offer only limited facilities, usually translations. Another shortcoming is
that compact units make for tedious operation,....
2) In a dissertation on the strategies used by university level female Saudi learners of English
writing both in Arabic and in English we read:
In a study of six EFL Chinese-speaking graduate students, Arndt (1987) observed that the
writing processes of the subjects in L1, Chinese, were similar to those used in L2,
English. Each subject wrote one essay in Chinese and one essay in English for the study.
.... Arndt's study is so relevant to ours as it compares L1 writing and EFL writing. .....
Arndt found differences in L1 and L2 writing processes for each subject, particularly in
the area of vocabulary. She found that the subjects "revised for word choice more in L2
task than in the L1 task...." (p.265).
3) The thesis on dictionary use again:
Print dictionary lends itself to learning more words of the same family at the low "cost"
of memorizing on meaning. Printed dictionaries give the students much information
(Koren, 1997). Furthermore, print dictionaries enable the users to see a whole page with
other words form the same family, plus idioms, common phrases.....
<views of Kent and Schmitt and McCarthy are reported, then 12 lines later, in the next
Koren (1997) argues that retention vocabularies of words are likely to be better with a
print dictionary. Print dictionaries provide a series of examples per headword, numerous
example sentences, and allow users to view word families....
1) The thesis on dictionary use:
Most of ESL students prefer to use electronic dictionaries because it is fast, portable and
easy to use. It saves time and effort. ........ On the other hand, translation students mainly
use HHE dictionaries because it is fast, easy to use, portable, and saves time.....
2) And again:
The study <Tono 1984> found that these users tend to choose the first definition of an
entry. Only if the information in the dictionary indicated the inappropriacy of the first
definition did they move to the next one. When the second one was also inadequate, they
moved to the third one and so forth. .... Furthermore, the subjects seem not to read whole
entries but would rather stop searching for the required meaning as soon as possible.
3) Thesis on non-natives writing in English, talking about the role of L1 in the writing process:
As this section will show, the studies that deal with the writing strategies of EFL students
as they write in the native language and English are very few. Hence, researchers ...have
found evidence of the transfer of first language writing skills and strategies to the second
Common sense on holiday?
1) Thesis on dictionary use:
HHE dictionaries are helpful in occasions requiring speed like a test situation.
2) In a dissertation on the effect of learning style on how a vocabulary learning task is
Perceptual (sensory) learning styles
This learning styles model is named differently by researchers, for example, Tamblin and
Ward (2006) call it VAKT (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Tactile) and Dornyei (2005)
calls them 'Sensory Preferences'; however, in this study they will be called sensory
learning styles, to avoid confusion....... However, this study will consider kinaesthetic and
tactile learners linked because the instrument used to measure the participants' sensory
preference does not distinguish between the two.
3) Thesis on Saudis writing in English, talking about the role of L1 in the writing process:
...the L1's role was viewed as a primary source of content and vocabulary...
1) In a dissertation where motivation is a major variable and needs reviewing, the writer is
providing a review of definitions of motivation:
Some definitions ... are discussed below with the aim of reaching a working definition of
motivation for the purpose of this study.
According to Gardner (1985: 10) the term motivation refers "to the extent to which the
individual works or strives to learn the language because of a desire to do so and the
satisfaction experienced in this activity". Here motivation encompasses three aspects: a
goal, an effort, a desire to achieve a goal, and a favourable attitude towards the activity in
Brown (1987: 114) defines motivation as "as an inner drive, impulse, emotion, or desire
that moves one to a particular action..."....
Keller (1983, cited by Crookes and Schmidt, 1991:481) gives a simple definition of what
motivation is by saying "the choices people make as to what experiences or goals they
will approach or avoid and the degree of effort they will exert in that respect"...
Deci and Ryan ..... (Ryan and Deci 2000: 54) argue that "To be motivated means to be
moved to do something. A person who feels no impetus or inspiration to act is thus
Ames and Ames (1989) regard motivation as the impetus to create and sustain intentions
and goal-seeking acts....
.... < and so on, to the end of the section>
Choice and exploitation of sources
1) In a dissertation on vocabulary teaching we read:
The traditional neglect of vocabulary in language study is borne out by Wilkins who
comments that "linguists have had remarkably little to say about vocabulary and one can
find very few studies which could be of any practical interest to language teachers"
2) A student is reviewing studies of writing for her study of EFL university level females writing
in English... here are some studies she includes and how she describes them:
Graves and Murray (1980) found that.... planning includes... making notes....
Flower and Hayes (1981b) ...found that planning activities occurred when writers
Sommers (1980)... randomly chose forty writers, twenty experienced and twenty
freshmen or upper- level writers.... four revision operations have been identified…
Stallard (1974) compared the writing strategies of fifteen good senior high school student
writers with those of fifteen average writers.... and categorised revisions...
3) In the same lit review:
Raimes reports.... but our study does not confirm this finding.
1) In a dissertation on vocab learning:
Some learners are very successful at learning vocabulary on their own, but others can
only achieve success through instructions.
PJS... work in progress Oct 08