21W.794 | January IAP 2019 | Graduate

Graduate Technical Writing Workshop


Literature Review Assignment

The first draft of your literature review is due at the end of Week 2.

The revision is due at the end of Week 4.

Word limit: 1500 words.

A literature review might be considered a meta-genre in STEM fields, because it serves many uses and has many variants. As a stand-alone genre, literature review articles are published to analyze the state of a specialized field, by synthesizing recent research and identifying patterns, trends, and remaining open questions. You can think of them as a public service researchers perform for their community, as it is then easier for the rest of us to digest recent research quickly, and to identify the particular articles that would be most relevant for our own work. Literature reviews are not entirely selfless acts, however, because they are also an opportunity for researchers to shape future research agendas by evaluating and critiquing the current trends. Published literature reviews, then, need to be objective and comprehensive enough to cover a field, but can also be critical and evaluative in their assessment of which open questions are more important to pursue, and which methodological approaches might be more promising.

Literature reviews are also usually required, as a sub-genre, in most master’s and doctoral theses. In this context, literature reviews provide an overview of published research relevant to the thesis project, but the same goals of comprehensiveness, synthesis, and evaluation still apply.

Your task is to write a literature review that synthesizes recent research on the intensity and destructiveness of cyclones, based on the following five articles. We will evaluate your literature review on the basis of how well you provide your fellow researchers an overview of the current trends, promising approaches, and remaining open questions in the field.


  1. Donnelly, Jeffrey P., and Jonathan D. Woodruff. “Intense Hurricane Activity over the Past 5,000 Years Controlled by El Niño and the West African Monsoon.” Nature 447 (2007): 465–68.
  2. Elsner, James B., James P. Kossin, and Thomas H. Jagger. “The Increasing Intensity of the Strongest Tropical Cyclones.” Nature 455 (2008): 92–95.
  3. Emanuel, Kerry. “Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones over the Past 30 Years.” Nature 436 (2005): 686–88.
  4. O’Gorman, Paul A. “Understanding the Varied Response of the Extratropical Storm Tracks to Climate Change.” PNAS 107, no. 45 (2010): 19176–80.
  5. Patricola, Christina M., and Michael F. Wehner. “Anthropogenic Influences on Major Tropical Cyclone Events.” Nature 563 (2018): 339–46.

Peer Review Assignment

The first draft of your literature review is due at the end of Week 2. Please email copies of your draft to members of your peer group (and copy your instructor).

At our next meeting, you will discuss your review of your peers’ drafts. You will have 20–30 minutes to discuss each draft. To facilitate this discussion, read the literature review drafts and answer the following questions (a formal write-up is not required):

  • What are the moves of the draft’s Introduction? How could their effectiveness be improved?
  • Does the overall organization of the literature review make sense and allow the writer to effectively synthesize and identify patterns among the articles? Do the paragraphs have clear topic sentences and do they follow the order forecast in the introduction?
  • How comprehensive is the review, i.e., are the main points explored with sufficient depth to reveal the complexity of the issue? Note some places where comprehensiveness could be improved, and how.
  • How is this review using sources? Do we get clear references to the appropriate source for each piece of information? Are sources introduced in ways that highlight the focus and the type of information appropriately?
  • Does the metadiscourse help the reader to understand the organization of the essay? Does the metadiscourse reveal the stance and audience awareness of the writer? Highlight where metadiscourse is needed or could more effectively perform these functions.
  • At the sentence level, how easy is it to follow the logic of the writer? Are the sentences structured so that they each convey a single point? Identify places where syntax is confusing or unclear, and make suggestions for revision, if possible.

Oral Presentation of a Genre Analysis

The presentations should be no more than 12 minutes and will take place during Week 4.

This assignment gives you the opportunity to investigate a genre in your field (using 3–5 examples) that you are likely to produce as a graduate student or professional, and then to teach its features to your classmates. Some examples of genres that you could investigate are:

Grant proposal Slide presentation Literature review
Conference abstract Design document MA or PhD thesis
Research poster Technical memo Job letter
Journal article   Elevator pitch Research / Teaching statement

As you choose which genre to investigate, consider practical issues of how you will collect and analyze data (your 3–5 examples)—texts will be easier to access, most likely, than oral genres, and published texts will be easier to access than private ones. However, you may be able to ask advisors or others in your field or lab for examples of unpublished genres, for this purpose.

A 12-minute presentation will not give you time to do an exhaustive analysis of each rhetorical move of your chosen genre. We’ve highlighted here some useful questions for you to address, but you will also need to use your own judgment about which features of your genre are most critical to understand.

To help orient your audience, begin your presentation with a brief overview of the context, rhetorical situation, and activity system in which this genre functions. Who produces it? Who is the audience? Why does this genre exist (and how long has it existed)? What social work does it do? What other activities does it aid?

Then address, in detail, with examples, 3–5 features of the genre and discourse that you believe are central. These could include, for instance, important rhetorical moves; the role of metadiscourse; the role of visuals; features of information design or organization such as sections and headings; features of argumentation; or common discourse patterns. If you like, you could also include information about the composing process—are these usually composed by a single author? Collaboratively? How much time do people typically spend composing them? What process do they use?

Be prepared to answer a few questions at the end of your presentation.

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments