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ENG 552 Composition Studies
Spring 2005

Bibliographical Essay or Review of Literature Assignment 

Knowledge separates the educated from the common people. Neither knows. But the common person claims to know, while the educated person knows that [she] he does know. --Vico

This assignment--to craft a bibliographical essay or review of literature--will give you an opportunity to read in depth in one focused area related to your own scholarly interests within the large, amorphous discipline of composition studies. Although there are subtle differences between a bibliographical essay and a review of literature, both aim to review the lay of the scholarly land, so to speak, in one area. That is, both present what other scholars and researchers have addressed, discovered, constructed, theorized, reported, and argued concerning the focused scholarly area. Further, although both genres can stand alone and are published as such, the review of literature also often appears as a section in larger projects (e.g., a p art of an MA thesis, dissertation, prospectus, grant application, and so on). Hence, a secondary purpose of this assignment is to provide you with important immersion in a professional genre that you will be expected to master as a graduate student as well as in your career.

Divergences and Convergences: The distinctions between a bibliographical essay and a review of literature are fine but worth making. First, bibliographical essays tend to be authored by those in the humanities and some in social sciences whereas reviews of literature are more often authored by those in the sciences and social sciences, especially those who do empirical research. Second, a bibliographical essay is meant to offer a detailed snapshot of the state of scholarship—our current understandings—on a p art icular area of research. This snapshot helps to identify gaps in our understanding that other scholars can use to create their own scholarly projects. In essence, the bibliographical essay says: here's what we know right now about this area and here's what we need to know or do. By contrast, the review of literature presents a discussion of the most important research and theoretical work relating to the research problem/objective that a given scholar is studying. That is, it provides a context within which that scholar can insert her work.

Where these two genres converge is that both address the following kinds of questions: What have others said about this area(s)? What theories address it and what do these say? (These theories may be in competition with each other, and thus, offer conflicting explanations.) What research has been done (or not done) previously? Are there consistent findings or do past studies disagree? Are there flaws or gaps in the previous research that other scholars should attend to (bibliographical essay) or that your study will seek to remedy (review of literature, especially when it appears as a section in a larger piece)? (Note: for a thesis committee, the bibliographical essay and the review of literature serve an additional function, namely, as a demonstration of your knowledge and understanding of relevant scholarship and, thus, a demonstration of your ability to undertake a given research project.)

Assignment Description: This assignment is sequenced as follows:


Informal Proposal : Write a brief (no more than one page) proposal in which you identify your research area, your question(s) about that area, and a reflection on your research area and question. (See separate handout on the proposal.)


Informal Proposal is due: Monday, February 21

Essay: You will write a 15- to 20-page paper (either a review of literature or a bibliographic essay) that addresses at least 15 sources. (You will undoubtedly find many more sources and may include as many as you wish but be realistic. Ask yourself: how much can I read closely within the time limitations of the semester.)

Bibliographical Essay or Review of Literature is due: Monday, May 2

Peer Response: You will conduct a peer review of one of your colleague's manuscripts. I will assign you a p art ner for this task. This assignment serves a dual purpose: 1) to provide you with an opportunity to practice writing the kind of response you may be called on to do as a thesis advisor, grant evaluator, or manuscript/book proposal reviewer, and 2) to practice working with a reviewer's response to help you revise a manuscript. Both goals contribute to professional development. You will receive a detailed assignment sheet for conducting this review that will be modeled on the evaluation criteria used by several publishing houses.

Peer Response is due on or before Monday, April 18

Models of Bibliographical Essays and Reviews of Literature

Before planning and writing this essay, it may be helpful to examine models of bibliographical essays and reviews of literature. In addition to doing key word searches for either “bibliographical essay” or “review of literature” in titles of pieces (essays, books, or journals) in your research area, you might look at one or more of the following:

Tate, Gary , ed. Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographical Essays . Fort Worth , TX : Texas Christian UP, 1987.

Harsanyi, M art ha A. “Multiple Authors, Multiple Problems—Bibliometrics and the Study of scholarly Collaboration: A Literature Review.” Library and Information Science Research 15 (1993): 325-53.

Hudson, Thom. “Theoretical Perspectives on Reading .” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 18 (1998): 43-60.

Review of Educational Research (journal that publishes reviews of literature in education)

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