Evaluative Criteria - From a Class Paper to a Publishable Review - Conference Proposals and Article Types

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Evaluative Criteria
From a Class Paper to a Publishable Review
Conference Proposals and Article Types

After a doctoral candidate shared Chap.2 with her committee, all agreed that it was an exemplary review of the relevant literature. One committee member said, “While reading this, I felt as though I were being taken on a tour of a mansion with an exceptionally knowledgeable docent. The commentary followed the pathway of the tour and provided keen insights.” Taking this analogy one step further, a poorly written literature review is comparable to docents who have merely memorized some information and repeat it each time they conduct a tour. They often are confounded by questions because they have surface knowledge rather than a deep understanding. In fact, they rely on memorization so much that pausing to answer a question can cause them to “lose their place” and get confused.

What characteristics distinguish high-quality reviews of the literature from those that are less so? In a fascinating study that “graded” dissertations (Lovitt, 2005), 272 faculty members in 74 departments across 10 disciplines at 9 research universities participated in focus groups that supplied descriptors for “outstanding”, “very good”, “acceptable”, and “unacceptable” dissertations. Collectively they had 6,129 years of experience, had chaired approximately 3,470 dissertations, and had served on 9,890 dissertation committees. In a nutshell, outstanding dissertations had the best literature reviews; they were characterized with statements such as: “exhibits mature, independent thinking,” “has a point of view and a strong, confident, independent, and authoritative voice,” “displays a deep understanding of a massive amount of complicated literature,” and “has a conceptual framework and shows a deep understanding of theory”. Merely acceptable dissertations that were “workmanlike” and “a chore to read”. So, how does an author progress to more sophisticated understandings of the work of reviewing? Table 5.4 highlights some of the comments about literature reviews based on Lovitt’s (2007) research.

Table 5.4

“Grading” the literature review


Very good



Is original, ambitious, brilliant, clear, coherent, compelling, concise, creative, elegant, engaging, interesting, insightful, persuasive, sophisticated, surprising, and thoughtful

Has some original ideas, insights, and observations, but is less original, significant, ambitious, interesting, and exciting than the outstanding category

Displays little creativity, imagination, or insight

Lacks careful thought

Is very well written and organized

Misses opportunities to completely explore interesting issues and connections

Is not interesting, exciting, or surprising

Does not understand or misses relevant literature

Synthesizes the literature well and is interdisciplinary

Makes a modest contribution to the field

Is pedestrian, plodding and a chore to read

Has a weak, inconsistent, self-contradictory, unconvincing, or invalid argument

Connects components in a seamless way

Is well written and organized

Contains an acceptable amount of solid work to show that the student can do research

Does not handle theory well, or theory is missing or wrong

Exhibits mature, independent thinking

Shows understanding and mastery of the subject matter

Tends to be highly derivative, often an extension of the adviser’s work

Has wrong, inappropriate, incoherent, or confused analysis

Argument is focused, logical, rigorous, and sustained

Has a strong, comprehensive, and coherent argument

Adds little to the field and lacks consequence

Has unsupported or exaggerated interpretation

Has a point of view and a confident, independent, and authoritative voice

Displays a narrow understanding of the field

Does not make a contribution

Displays a deep understanding of a massive amount of complicated literature

Does not critique the literature

Conclusion ties the whole thing together

Fails to present an imaginative, complex, or convincing argument

Is publishable in top-tier journals