When asking students to write a new kind of paper, I try to give them a visual metaphor that lets them see what place this paper would hold.
Today I went with a pothole in the road metaphor for the “gap in the literature.” I used that, further, to explain that someone who has seen the huge pothole in the road might create a literature review in order to point out the pothole to others and, to some extent, to lay the sand base to begin to fill the pothole in.
I also explained that while it would be totally cool if some of them were able to write that kind of a literature review, I did not actually expect it of them. What they should do, I told them, was to write a literature review to describe the road. They’re new; they don’t know where they are going. Their lit review should tell me what road they are on.
They laughed. But I hope it got through to them.
I also explained it another way. I told them if there were almost no papers on their topic, even with good search terms, then it was possible that they were at the top of a mountain where the snow is melting and starting to form a stream. It’s very cold and lonely up there, but they can hop right over that stream no problem.
If, on the other hand, there are thousands of papers on their topics, even after narrowing, they’re now trying to walk across the Mississippi in full flood. I asked them what would happen. They said they would drown. Exactly! So the lit review for them is supposed to make a little dam that slows part of the water down enough for them to be able to join the conversation.
I don’t know if those metaphors helped or not, but it was an interesting day.
The background of the class:
I am teaching a writing in the disciplines course with sophomore students who have not done any work in their fields. The course is supposed to both introduce them to their fields, in which I am not an expert, and introduce them to the writing of their fields, in which I am an expert.
The picture is from Mopo.ca..