When people talk about ‘voice’ in academic writing, they usually mean that the reader can sense the presence of a writer controlling the message in the text.
As the writer of your literature review, you should be controlling:
- the overall structure of the review
- the way in which you integrate and comment upon the work in the field.
Allowing your voice to be heard equates to making your argument come through clearly.
Look at the example below, which is from a draft journal article. Does it give you a sense of the writer’s voice? Click the comment button below the text for some feedback.
For Cadman (1997, p. 3), identity is the sense of self – ‘as a whole person’ – that international postgraduate students bring to their writing of argumentative texts, and which can affect language performance. Peirce (1995), in her study of immigrant women in Canada, argues that language both constitutes and is constituted by social identity, which suggests that the sense of self is closely bound up with language. These two citations of research are clearly linked through the themes of identity and language. However, we have no understanding of how the writer wants us to perceive that relationship, or where this research fits in the overall argument of the review. The writer’s voice is absent.
The draft was revised, adding the sentences in red. Click on the button beside each added sentence to see comments.
Show/hide lecturer's comment 2 Identity is the third element involved in the situation of the international/NESB research student, and particularly impinges on the effectiveness of any kind of support offered. The paragraph now has a topic sentence, which links it to a larger structure and focuses it on the third element, identity. We now know that the argument of this literature review is related to providing support for international research students. Cadman (1997, p. 3) uses this term to refer to the sense of self – ‘as a whole person’ – that international postgraduate students bring to their writing of argumentative texts, and which can affect language performance. Show/hide lecturer's comment 3 This sense of self is closely bound up with language; This added clause shows us how the writer sees the connection between the two pieces of research cited. in her study of immigrant women in Canada, Peirce (1995) argues that language both constitutes and is constituted by social identity. Show/hide lecturer's comment 4 For international postgraduate students, identity, knowledge and language are very closely connected, since what is at stake is often the student’s identity as a knowledgeable person, a professional and a competent speaker/writer of English. In the final sentence of the paragraph, the writer makes clear the implications of the cited research for the topic of the article.
Sometimes voice is not just a matter of adding sentences to the text of the literature review. It can be a matter of organising citations and framing them in a way that creates a strong storyline, as in the following activity based on the literature review from a report of experimental research. Read the two versions of this review section below to see how the same material can be framed more effectively.
Read Version A below and answer the questions.Version A
A study by McLellan et al. (2014) showed that all three colours are perceived by knockout mice with the human vision gene. But another study, with 25 mice, did not confirm this finding (Smith, 2012). Only two colours were consistently perceived by all knockout mice through the standard dichromatic S and M cone pigments (Myers 2015). According to Hennessy, the reason why only two colours are perceived by knockout mice is that the human vision gene does not result in the formation of L-cones (Hennessy, 2005). Trichromatic vision was, however, achieved by McLellan (2015). This new study introduced a new method of genetic modification (McLellan, 2015).
Now read Version B below and answer the questions.Version B
Although mice are naturally dichromatic, recent research has shown that their brains are able to process trichromatic vision as well (McLellan, 2015). This ability was tested by implanting mice with the human vision gene, which results in the formation of L-cones, in addition to native S and M cones. First attempts, based on flawed methods, were unsuccessful (Hennessy, 2005; Smith, 2012). However, a new method developed by George McLellan and his lab achieved an effective genetic implantation (McLellan et al, 2014; McLellan 2015).
Kamler, B. & Thomson, P. (2006). Helping Doctoral Students Write. Pedagogies for Supervision. London and New York: Routledge.
Rudestam, K. E., & Newton, R. R. (1992). Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.