Literature Review | Guided Reading Experience for Research Development Mentors and Mentees | Part I

by SRA International on Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Authored by Rachel Goff-Albritton
Research Development & Training Specialist
Florida State University


A guided reading exercise could serve as a valuable early step in a Research Development (RD) professional’s career development, especially for those many years post-graduate school or without prior experience publishing academic articles. Guided reading is an instructional approach that focuses on critical analysis of a book’s content. A mentor guides a mentee, through a book’s content by using discussion, questioning, reflective writing, or context to make the information more meaningful and useful for the mentee. A guided reading exercise is valuable, because it encourages a mentee to use their current knowledge, current projects, and past experiences to expand upon their understanding of new information. Guided reading uses an informal and approachable learning platform, especially helpful for a new mentor/mentee pair.

My guided reading experience started when Amy Cuhel-Schuckers, Director of Faculty Grants & Compliance Resourcing at Franklin & Marshall College, editorial board member and Chair of the ad hoc Author Fellowship Program for the Journal of Research Administration (JRA),  graciously offered to trial a guided reading exercise with me.  When I came across the JRA’s Author Fellowship Program, I was working on a systematic literature review on the barriers and facilitators to faculty grantsmanship. We chose the book Doing a literature review: Releasing the research imagination by Chris Hart (2018), a comprehensive overview of the philosophy and strategy of reviewing academic literature. Each month we independently read a section of the book and then came together to discuss our observations in relation to our own work via phone conferencing. At Amy’s suggestion, we began by viewing the book’s organizational structure, skimming sections, and first reading the most interesting topics.  We started working from the back of the book (i.e., Writing a Review) to the front (i.e., Research Imagination and Classifying Research to Review). This allowed us to jump right into the meat of the content before diving into the gritty details of the earlier chapters.

During our conference calls, Amy provided other guidance, such as suggesting a reflective writing exercise to help me lead a reader through my thought process. She also suggested connecting with my university librarians and connecting with experts related to my topic via national RD organizations (e.g., SRAI, NORDP, NCURA). Additionally, we discussed campus faculty development events that each of our offices hosted, learning from each other.

In our book chapter discussions, we noted an emphasis by the author, Chris Hart, on the importance of creativity in our work as scholars (and RD professionals).  The reading, critical analysis and synthesis, writing, and revising required in a literature review allows a scholar to fully understand gaps in the literature or in our knowledge as RD professionals, while also feeding the scholar’s intellectual well-being. The book offered an opportunity to critically reflect on many considerations one makes when writing a literature review.

Specifically from the book content, we discussed the role of scholarship and research imagination in the formation of a research project. A scholar must ask increasingly complex questions related to their work, progressing from basic questions, such as “What is the jargon of my topic and how is it used?,” to intermediate questions like “What are the main debates on my topic?,” and on to advanced questions, such as “What alternative approaches are there for understanding the topic, which have not been used?” (p. 21). As researchers develop knowledge on a research topic, they progress through the hierarchy of key questioning and develop an expertise in the topic. As I have noted while initiating my systematic literature review, Hart describes how a literature review process moves in a non-sequential manner where instead of reading, then researching, and then writing, most projects move back and forth, e.g., reading, then writing, researching, writing, then reading again, writing, researching, and then writing again. The process of a literature review is complex and meticulous, but also it’s exciting, creative, and imaginative.

Researchers new and old to publishing discuss the “imposter syndrome,” where writers have researched their topic enough to finally know all that they don’t know, resulting in a feeling of inadequacy. As Albert Einstein famously stated, “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”  I appreciated how Hart carefully described the dimensions of scholarship, including the skills, capabilities, attitudes, and qualities that make a scholar, and listing characteristics pertinent in each area. This description of a scholar reminds researchers (and myself) that they do have necessary attributes to complete a research project (or write up a research project for publication), perhaps lessening the influence of the imposter syndrome.  

Hart discusses considerations to make when writing, such as deciding on an intended audience and choosing how to write for different audiences. He also suggest that researchers describe the purpose of the project and what the stakeholders (audience) will gain from the research. Hart described many different possible purposes for a literature review, such as a contribution to an established line of research or a contribution to a dearth of knowledge about a problem or issue; within each purpose, Hart provided a list of corresponding components within those types of reviews that researchers can use as a sort of formula for writing the purpose/rationale section of their literature review.  Additionally, Hart recommends a writing exercise of discussing the work first in three basic blocks, including (1) summary of existing work on the topic, (2) critical evaluation, and (3) some general and specific conclusions about work done to date on the topic.