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Instructions for Writing the Literature Review

You will write a literature review on any of the works listed in the Assignment Schedule, or you may choose one of the topics below:

• Any topic that concerns one of the works listed on the syllabus, including topics that emerge out of your in-class writing
• An element of poetry in any of the works we cover
• An element of fiction in any of the works we cover
• Romanticism in the fiction of Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville
• Romanticism in the poetry of Emily Dickinson
• Science in Dickinson’s poetry
• Science in Whitman’s poetry (e. g., geology)
• Bryant’s “Thanatopsis”
• The concept of the noble savage in American Romantic literature
• Racism in Benito Cereno
• Racism in Huckleberry Finn
• Realism in the fiction of Twain, Wharton, Freeman, or Howells
• Naturalism in the fiction of Bierce, Crane, or London.

A literature review is essentially a report on what others have said about a topic. For example, if you were writing about Emily Dickinson’s poem “My Life had stood a load gun,” your literature review would provide an overview of what other writers (scholars, commentators, and the like) have said about the poem. In other words, you don’t make and develop an argument about the poem. Instead, you describe and explain what other writers have said about the poem. Thus, you are writing about secondary sources (the commentary on the poem), and not the primary source (the poem itself).

A detailed and clear account of a literature review, as a type of researched essay, can be found at

You can also view some sample student literature reviews (see the CIDs folder called “Sample Student Essays”)

Your review should cover 10-15 scholarly sources, three of which must be peer-reviewed journal articles (also called “refereed articles”) found through our library’s research databases. Other scholarly sources may include:
• Student blogs of at least 500 words
• Chapters or passages from books (yes, we have books, in our library; no kidding)
• Encyclopedic articles
• Academic essays found through Google searches or through online sites like
• Interviews or documentaries or other web sites

In many cases you can find scholarly sources through a Google search that adds “site:edu” (without quotation marks) to your search terms in order to restrict your search to education websites (domains). Thus, on Google, you can do a search like the following: Emily Dickinson poetry science site:edu. All sources must be at least 500 words long.

No sources from commercial web sites ending in .com or .net will be acceptable, unless they are documentaries or interviews.

Your review should be 1,000-1,250 words long, and should observe the stylistic guidelines of the Modern Language Association (MLA, 8th edition) with respect to formatting, use of signal phrases, in-text citations, and Works Cited page. In this regard, these two web sites will be helpful:


You should compile an annotated bibliography of at least 20 sources that you might use in your review, and it should be completed at least two weeks before the paper is due. A student example is available in Blackboard. You should also complete a draft of the essay at least a week before the paper is due, so that you have time to revise and edit your paper.

Your paper will be rated according to the following criteria outlined in this handout:

So, how do you actually produce a literature review?
You begin by compiling an annotated bibliography. This is list of sources that you might use in your review, and each source in your list should have a brief note (1-5 sentences) indicating how the source is relevant to your paper. You should compile and annotate 15 sources, ten of which you use in your review.

Your annotated bibliography should be alphabetized by last name of author of source wherever available. If no name is available, then alphabetize your sources by first letter of title of source (excluding definite and indefinite articles “the,” “a,” and “an”). Additionally, each source in your bibliography should have a brief note (1-5 sentences) indicating why this source is relevant to your topic.

Study the sample student annotated bibliography in the CIDs to get an idea of the assignment.

As mentioned above, three of the ten sources in your review must be peer-reviewed essays (also called “refereed essays” or “refereed articles”). A refereed article” is the gold standard of scholarship, for it has been vetted by a handful of experts, who agree that the article represents innovative thinking about the topic, and ought to be published in a scholarly journal.

How do I locate peer-reviewed sources?
You locate them in scholarly databases such as the following:
• Academic Search Complete
• Academic One File
• Literature Resource Center

These are readily available through the Coulter Library link at the top of the course page in Blackboard.

Let’s say I’m compiling an annotated bibliography on the politics of Walt Whitman’s poetry, and I want to find my three peer-reviewed articles first. Here are the steps I would take:
• “Articles” (in column on left)
• Academic Search Complete (this is a research database)
• In this database type in Whitman Song of Myself politics
• Got only one hit, but it’s a good one, so I click on “cite” to get the bibliographic data of the source in MLA format (scroll down for MLA format).
• I cut and paste this data into a Word file of my working bibliography. Here is the actual data, cut and pasted from the database:

Marovich, Beatrice. “Myself: Walt Whitman’s Political, Theological Creature.” Anglican
Theological Review, vol. 92, no. 2, Spring2010, pp. 347-366. EBSCOhost,

I have no idea whether this source treats Whitman’s politics in “Song of Myself,” but the title suggests it does, so I’m going to put it into my working bibliography anyway for the time being. If for some reason I can’t find enough sources on my specific topic (it may be too narrow), I can always change it to something broader, like “Whitman and democracy,” and I will have sources ready to read, summarize or paraphrase for my literature review. This will save me a great deal of time if I use this source in my paper because I can cut and paste it again into my Works Cited page.

I am also going to download the pdf. for future use, if necessary.

Now, to resume:
• Go back a page and select “Research Databases by Subject”
• Select “English”
• Select “Literature Resource Center”
• Go to “Advance Search”
• Type in Whitman “Song of Myself” politics
• Too much different stuff; try again: Whitman democracy
• Select “articles” (right-hand column, scroll down a bit for it)
• Bingo! 27 relevant articles, some of them bound to touch on “Song of Myself.”

Note that “English” research databases offer, in addition to Literature Resource Center, other databases. These can be searched as well. Each of them has its own search format, but all have an “advance search” function. Additionally, all of them are defaulted to a “relevancy” search. This means that in the first article in the list of articles you search terms appear more frequently in the first essay listed than in all the other essays listed, and that it appears more frequently in the second essay listed than all others except the first, and so on. You want sources that frequently mention your search terms. Of course, you can change the relevancy search to search for most recent sources.

As noted above, you may also cover in your literature review Internet essays, book chapters, documentaries or interviews, encyclopedic articles, or student blogs. Below are some examples of how to format each of them (using Whitman sources as my exemplar).

• A peer-reviewed article, found through Google search, using my search terms (Whitman Song of Myself politics) + site:edu (“site:edu” restricts the search to educational domains):

Hardwig, Bill. “Walt Whitman and the Epic Tradition: Political and Poetical Voices in ‘Song of

Myself.’” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. 17.4 (2000): 166-88.

• A book, found using the “Books” option on Coulter Library’s page:

Lawson, Andrew. Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle. University of Iowa Press, 2006. The

Iowa Whitman Series.

• Student blog, found through Google search, using the following search terms: Whitman “Song of Myself” politics blog site:org (“site:org” restricts search to .org sites)

“Janices Justanotherlookingforwhitmanweblog.”


• Youtube analysis

“Lecture 5 – On Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself.’”


Note that an online reference librarian is available 24/7 to help you find sources. See the “chat” function on the library’s home page

Your annotated bibliography should be formatted according to MLA conventions. This means it should be formatted as a Works Cited page should be formatted (only you should entitle it “Annotated Bibliography):

What do I do after compiling the annotated bibliography?

Instructions for Writing Your Thesis and Topic Outline

You will want to read your sources and organize them. You might want to have each source on an index card so you can arrange them into possible organization for your essay. Your organization of your paper will lend itself to a thesis statement. There are basically two patterns of organization: (1) chronological and (2) thematic.

For example: Over the last five years, studies of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” have focused on the disconnect between Whitman’s democratic themes and authoritarian tone.

That’s a chronological thesis and organization. Your review would start with the oldest scholarship on this topic (within the last five years) and move toward the most recent.

Another example: One of the more interest topics in the literature on the film Blade Runner centers on the artificial intelligence of the replicants, with some commentators arguing that ________________, while others contend _____________________.

This example, which I simply made up, illustrates a thematic thesis and organization.

As you can tell from my examples, the literature review thesis does not advance new arguments but reports on what others have said.

For more advice on writing a literature review thesis, as well as a topic outline, see the following e-resources:
• Literature review thesis:
• How to write a topic outline:

If you have trouble inventing your thesis, try some of the prewriting strategies described here:
Your next step is to write a topic outline. Just as an architect builds a house with a blueprint, you should create your essay with a topic outline. Write your thesis above you topic outline, and follow the excellent advice given here on writing such an outline: doldham/102/HTML/Topic%20Outline.html

Instructions for Writing Your Draft

Earnest Hemingway once said that the hardest part of writing is writing. I agree, but there comes a point where you have sit down and start hammering at the keyboard. That’s called drafting for our purposes. And for this step in the writing process for this assignment, my advice to you is to set your topic outline next to your computer, and start writing until you can’t write anymore. And don’t censor your writing: don’t correct any mistakes, awkward phrasing, and so on. Write as quickly and intelligently as you possible can, no matter how many errors or how badly it sounds. Get a lot clay on the wheel, for it’s easier to take off than put on during the revision step of writing.

Your draft should be as long if not longer than the word-length requirement of the final version of the essay, 1,100-1,300 words, and you should submit it, as a Word file, in the appropriate drop box. Drafts that meet the word requirement just mentioned, and are unified, well developed, and have the minimum number of sources covered (10) will earn full credit. Note: your drafts to not need to include the Works Cited page.

For advice on writing a draft:

After you have written the draft, you should definitely take it to the Learning Center and have a writing skills tutor offer you revision advice on the higher order of concerns outlined at

If you cannot come to campus, ask a Night Writer tutor to offer you revision advice. Revision advice should not be confused with editing and proofreading. Be sure you understand the difference between higher and lower order of concerns in the e-resource just above!

Once your paper is revised, you should edit and proofread it using the following strategies describe here:

Tips for success:
• Spend four hours per week on this paper
• Print, read and annotate the primary sources you are writing about (invention);
• Print out the peer-reviewed articles you are using
• Use the writing process help you invent your own thesis:
• Complete your draft two weeks ahead of time and email it to NightWriter for revision advice (specifically advice on thesis, support for thesis, unified development).
• Have a friend read your essay and ask them if they understood what you are writing about, what your point is, and whether you have a solid argument.
• Run the spell check (set to grammar and style, not merely “grammar”) and accept appropriate corrections).
• Read your paper aloud (impress your friends, terrify your enemies) to detect and correct the following errors: awkward phrasing, missing words, misspelled words, missing or faulty punctuation.

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