Writing Project 3: The Literature Review

Overview: Audience and Purpose

[L]iterature reviews are … important for scholarly research within the university setting. They can be a source of ideas, research questions, and hunches to explore. That is, through finding exemplars of well-executed research, interesting ideas that are not particularly well executed, or gaps in the body of knowledge in a discipline, we can identify possibilities for future research. Literature reviews also help scholars avoid “reinventing the wheel” by enabling them to build on what others have done. (Zorn and Campbell, 2006)

For this assignment, you will synthesize a minimum of two current peer-reviewed articles and two articles from other reputable sources to present the current state of the knowledge on a current public health-related topic. Through writing a literature review, you will deepen your understanding of how scholars in any discipline investigate problems and formulate questions: what methods are employed, what counts for data, how data is interpreted, and why this kind of research matters.

The target audience for this piece will be an undergraduate academic journal, such as those identified here. This assignment will show to established members of the discipline that you are actively listening, paying attention, and engaging in the discourse of the discipline.


Your literature review will consist of three parts: an introduction in which you provide a summary of the background and context of the issue, a survey of the current research, and a discussion on the progress and significance of the research. After the paper is completed, you will write a reflective cover letter in which you evaluate your development as a researcher and writer. This reflective letter will count as your “final exam” in this course.


1. Sections:

• Introduction

In approximately 100-200 words, narrate the relevant background of the issue and explain why it matters to practitioners in public health. This may be a synthesis of the context and significant sections of your review but should be more formal in tone. You may define key terms, but do not spend a lot of time doing so as your audience should be expected to have some familiarity with them. As with a traditional essay, the thesis statement should be in this first section.

Current Research
Use at least two academic, peer-reviewed journal articles to provide a fair, comprehensive description of the current research, debate, or development in the field. You should also include two sources from reputable sources (not peer-reviewed). I will provide more information on what kinds of sources would be appropriate.
Organize your survey into categories labeled with sub-headings that break the general topic into themes. Rather than talking about the sources one by one (as in an annotated bibliography), you will explain how they work in conversation with one another (For example: “Smithson shares Lee’s approach…” or “Chu questions DiFazzo’s assumption…”). This strategy is the heart of what “synthesis” means.

• Discussion

This section summarizes what may be concluded about the topic from the body of literature reviewed while highlighting gaps in the current research, identifying what remains unknown and/or uncertain. You may tentatively speculate or hypothesize about developments to come or suggest possibilities for further research.

2. Format and Citation requirements: 5-6 double-spaced pages in 12-point Times New Roman font. Use MLA style (document and citations). Usually, I teach APA to my classes and help students learn how to use it for WP3 (as most peer-reviewed journals in public health use APA), but given our time constraints and new online format (to which we’re all still adjusting), we’ll stick with the more familiar MLA.

This assignment will help you achieve your overall Learning Outcomes for First-Year Writing, which are listed on the syllabus; you can review the Learning Outcomes here:

Sample Topics Related to Public Health (not an exhaustive list):

• anti-vaccination movement
• opioid crisis in the United States
• health equity/inequity in the United States
• how we deal with mental health patients in the United States
• novel virus transmission and threats to public health
• health insurance system in the United States
• a health topic of your choice: clear it with me first

N.B. We are all hyper-focused on the COVID-19 crisis as it continues to unfold here and around the globe. This is why I chose the public health category for your literature review. However, since the crisis is still ongoing, nothing (or very little) has been published in the peer-reviewed journals about this topic. The peer review process by its nature takes time, and scientists and doctors are still learning about the virus that causes the disease. Therefore, I am asking that you not choose COVID-19 as the topic for your lit review. You will not be able to find peer-reviewed articles on it yet. They will probably start to appear in several months. If you like, you can look at a related topic such as virus transmission. There have been studies of other “novel” viruses (viruses against which the human population has no immunity).

Later: I am changing my mind about COVID-19 as a topic. My husband, in the Chemistry Department, just shared with me a link form the American Chemical Society with several recent peer-reviewed articles on various aspect of COVID-19. I will post the link in this folder. If you find one or two that are readable, you are welcome to use these. There are plenty of non-peer-reviewed sources on the novel corona virus as well.

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