Writing for Students: How to write a literature review

Where you are asked to "read book a and book b"," read relevant texts", "compare and contrast", "compare the views of author a or b", or" write a critical assessment of or critically analyse the views of author a and author b"  you are in fact being asked to do a literature review!. You are being prepared for the big critical reflection task, the long journey to the academic holy grail of clear, detatched, logical analysis.

This starter exercise on the long journey contains all the essential skills.

Here are two readings about learning and computers. Despite the subject matter the process should be of key relevance to anyone in a learning situation. In this case the subject is designing computer software for people to use, but it is also about writing for the computer and therefore useful for improving writing skills for you and your pupils on the computer.

The small extracts appear to be about two different subjects. They may be. They may not be. If you disagree or can’t find any relevance, you must still say so and explain why. You must also quote your evidence.

Your starter task is to write just a paragraph or two comparing the two research findings.

1) You should use this to practice the reading/thinking process and correct writing style

Read each section

      Make notes on interesting aspects of each
      Plan out the two paragraphs in note form
      Start typing.
      Introduce the subject in the first sentence.
      Introduce the idea of comparing two views in the second.
      Decide what is the first idea in one article and put the keyword at the beginning of the next sentence.
      Use the same keyword in the next sentence.

2) Use this exercise to also practice the citation methods -referencing your reading in the academic style.

      Quoted lines – indent single line spacing
      Quoted phrase – in the sentence
      General points without using authors words
      Bibliography at the bottom of the two paragraphs

These two examples also encourage you to spot how to write correctly by showing one full of (added by me) errors of academic writing style and plain typing mistakes in the first paper and correct style in the second paper.




Billing, D.M. multimedia and the learner's Experience of Narrative.
‘96 - Computers and Education. vol 2 London p503 508
(this academic reference is full of mistakes-spot them!!!)


This paper reports on research findings which show that the narrative structure of multimedia programs, or sometimes the lack of it, affects learners' comprehension, often adversely [1,2]. It also reports on initial findings from our current research which aims to develop a theoretical understanding of the forms and functions of narrative in interactive media, based on empirical research, and capable of informing instructional design.
(this academic reference is also full of mistakes- spot them!!!)

DIANA BILLING (Head of everything )

Interaction between the learner and the world is a vital part of the learning process because it is this that situates academic knowledge in our experience of the world. If we are to understand the world, whether it is a child learning arithmetic, or a student learning about economics, if our academic knowledge remains abstract and formal without any meaningful interpretation, then it is useless: it does not enable more effective action in the world, which is the primary value of academic knowledge. The world the learner interacts with is necessarily a teacher-constructed part of the world – a classroom experiment, a field-trip, a poem, etc., depending on the subject matter. It is the teacher’s task to construct the conditions of the learner’s interaction such that their experience enables them to learn - the experiment demonstrates that hot air rises, or the field trip shows what the topography of a fault line looks like, or reading the poem out loud shows how the metre works. On the basis of that particular experience the teacher can then begin to build general, abstracted descriptions. The interactive media, i.e. computer-based media, can support the learner in what is otherwise only possible through real-world experience.



Integrating Pedagogy and Software Design to Support Discussion in the Primary Curriculum

Rupert Wegerif, Neil Mercer, and Lyn Dawes
Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (1998) Vol 14. 102 120

This paper puts forward a framework for the integration of pedagogy and software design to support educationally valuable discussion within the primary curriculum. In order to illustrate and to evaluate this framework two educational programs were designed to be used in conjunction with a series of lessons to coach the use of 'exploratory talk' in small group work. Evaluation of the first item of software, in the area of citizenship, focused upon the difference that off-computer lessons in exploratory talk made to the way it was used. Evaluation of the second program, in the area of science, focused on the effect of the overall approach on learning outcomes. The results of these two illustrative studies support the value of the proposed framework. The first shows that combining software design with the off-computer coaching of exploratory talk can enhance the quality of interactions at the computer. The second shows that, with this pedagogical framework, computers can be used to stimulate collaborative learning and to direct it towards curriculum goals.

Exploratory talk

The SLANT project, referred to above, analysed over fifty hours of children's talk around computers. As well as finding that the quality of talk was often not all that the teachers hoped, the project team developed a way of understanding the cognitive dimension of children's talk around computers. This was characterised using three 'types of talk', which Mercer, (1995, p 104) described as ‘social modes of thinking’. A full account of these types of talk, supported by illustrative transcripts, was given by Mercer (1995) and a version of this can be found in Wegerif and Mercer (1996). Here, for reasons of space, the three types of talk are described more briefly. Abstracting greatly from Mercer's account, these three types are:

  • cumulative talk: ‘in which speakers build positively but uncritically on what the other has said’;
  • disputational talk: ‘characterised by disagreement and individualised decision making’;
  • exploratory talk: ‘in which partners engage critically but constructively with each other's ideas’.

In the most recent account of these types of talk, Wegerif and Mercer (1997) apply Habermas's theory of Communicative Action (1991 ) to argue that these 'social modes of thinking' describe fundamental orientations that participants in dialogue can take towards each other. They are not meant as a coding scheme but as a way of understanding the dynamics of social thinking. Exploratory talk, on this interpretation, is a particular version of what Habermas calls 'communicative rationality'. This is rationality defined not through rules of logical inference but through orientations and social ground-rules supporting a free and open encounter between ideas.

The Results

This is how your literature review should look:

The literature review

There are conflicting views about the importance of computer learning in the education environment. (INTRO SENTENCE) Billing(1996) suggests that interactive media can support the learner. (Your VIEW 1) Wegerif et. a.l [1996, p.102] supports this view but stresses the ‘value of exploratory talk in which partners engage critically but constructively with each other’s ideas.’ (Your VIEW 2)  ---next sentence - perhaps your examples and relevance to your own work, -if any.


Surprise 1

The comments are short just a few lines. You cannot be expected to write pages just the key points!

Surprise 2

Nobody tells you this but there is no right answer. You are certainly not expected to come up with any at your level of research. You are being put through a process. All you can do is suggest, surmise, indicate there are conflicting views, indicate the relevance. Here is a possible structure.


The correctly laid out reference at the end of your paper (More of this in next section)


Billing, D. M. (1996) Multimedia with Learners Experience of Narrative. Computers and Education, Vol 2, 1996, pp.503-508.