Recounting the Conversation: Learning How to Write a Literature Review


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This in-class activity gives students practice summarizing, synthesizing, and evaluating information from numerous sources – skills needed when writing a literature review. As a low-stakes, collaborative, in-class writing task, this activity is also meant to help alleviate some of the fears that students may have about writing. Writing manuals like Writing in Sociology (Edwards 2015) and Writing in Sociology: A Brief Guide (Smith-Lovin and Moskovitz 2017), refer to scholarly literatures as “conversations” occurring within a “party” or “room full of people.” Applying this metaphor, this exercise asks students to imagine themselves at a party, overhearing attendees’ remarks. Students get a list of quotes reflecting party-goers’ diverse views about the party theme. In groups, they then must recount the “conversation” in writing for an imagined friend who was not there; the focus of their write-up must align with their friend’s particular interests, as specified by the instructor. Students synthesize the disparate comments into a cohesive, thematically-organized summary, “citing” their sources along the way. They must discuss both consensus and competing perspectives among the sources (i.e. the party attendees), and they also identify gaps in the conversation that their friend could have filled, had they been at the party. After completing their write-up, students read their work aloud and the class can identify strengths and weaknesses and/or similarities and differences in how the groups accomplished this task.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Alexandra Olympia Hendley 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Research Methods 
Class Level:
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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The activity was developed for a course on writing and research design for sociology majors at a regional public university. Students’ final project for this course is a research proposal with a literature review. However, this activity could be used in a variety of courses that require this type of...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Summarize information from outside sources without plagiarism, demonstrating selectivity in use of direct quotes. Properly attribute the source of outside information.
Assessment 1:
The majority of groups write reviews that effectively put information into their own words, demonstrate selectivity in their use of direct quotes, and properly attribute sources.
Goal 2:
Differentiate between source material that is vs. is not relevant to specific question of interest. Analyze source material to identify consensus and divergent views. Synthesize and present material in a thematically organized way.
Assessment 2:
The majority of groups write reviews that focus on their assigned question, organize information thematically, and acknowledge multiple perspectives.
Goal 3:
Evaluate source material so as to identify gaps in knowledge (i.e. “the conversation”) and make informed suggestion for how to add to that body of knowledge.
Assessment 3:
The majority of groups demonstrate an ability (through writing and/or discussion) to critically assess source material so as to identify gaps in knowledge and make informed suggestions for how to contribute to that body of knowledge.

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Hendley_TRAILS Recounting the Conversation_REVISED.pdf