The Study Dude – Six Steps to Success

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to know the strategies the top academics use for making arguments and claims so that everything you write about–even personal experience– is logically sound.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s focus is on a book titled The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success by Lawrence A. Machi and Brenda T. McEvoy.

The Ins-and-Outs of Claims and Evidence
In a recent Study Dude article, we looked at a book called They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. While this book espoused and advocated the merit of you inserting your own voice in academic writing, the book came short on letting you know that you need to have ample evidence?or at least logic?to support any claims you make.

One key characteristic of academics is that they try to remain objective as much as possible by letting the data dictate the conclusions of their research (Machi & McEvoy, 2012). Your conclusions can be considered your claims. Chris Hart (as cited in Machi & McEvoy, 2012) outlines five claims types that you are well-advised to insert in your essays and write-ups: claims of fact, claims of worth, claims of policy, claims of concept, and claims of interpretation.

Claims of fact are the ones most often used in literature reviews. These are things like statistics and other elements that are generally assumed to be true, such as the earth rotates around the sun.

Claims of worth are where you stand in judgement of the value of something under consideration. You could make the claim that the Buddhist faith is more liberal-minded than most other religions, for instance, but whenever you make a claim of worth, you need considerable support (in other words, evidence) to back it up. Another example of a claim of worth is that you could say that Prime Minister Harper has a superior handle on economics and business relative to the other candidates. (Please note that these claims are for example only and do not necessarily represent my own views.)

Claims of policy are the “should have” or “should do” items, such as when you say that a policy the encourages small business growth in Canada should be implemented to stave off recessionary impacts. These require a great deal of evidence to back up such claims.

Claims of concept occur when you present a definition as relayed by expert testimony. For example, it is when you define a concept such as “sustainability” through one or more experts’ definitions.

Claims of interpretation use “expert testimony, empirical research, statistical studies, or anecdotal case studies […] Researchers use claims of interpretation to build models, to synthesize data, and to organize factual claims” (p. 72).

Locating Reasoning Patterns
When I took a logic class, I excelled to the top of the class. I think all of the math courses I took conditioned me for logical thinking. Yet, debate for me is another story, especially with its myriad of emotional elements. But logical thinking is essentially what you want to present when stringing together your arguments in academic writing.

When I was in graduate studies, it behooved me to learn the value of using evidence, based on a variety of reasoning patterns, to come to conclusions. I was used to the pattern of logic where multiple expert citations and some statistical data would stand to confirm that point I was making. Each expert point could stand alone and the accumulation of them just made the perspective that much stronger.

Yet there are a number of other ways that you can assert the soundness of your argument. Machi and McEvoy (2012) outline four reasoning patterns that can take your writing to a whole new dimension of complexity: one-on-one reasoning, side-by-side reasoning, chain reasoning, and joint reasoning. Each of these are called “warrant schemes” which are patterns that logically connect your evidence to your conclusions.

– One-on-one reasoning is where you have one piece of reasoning that connects directly to a conclusion/claim. For instance, the clouds are black; therefore, it is likely to rain. It looks like “reason; therefore claim.”
– Side-by-side reasoning is where several expert testimonies (in other words, authors, statistics, expert opinions, and researchers) support the same conclusion. For instance, there are Chinook clouds; the forecast says 9 above; the snow is melting; therefore, it is likely going to be a warm day. This looks like “reason1 AND reason2 AND reason3 and so forth; therefore claim”.
– Chain reasoning is where “each link of the chain becomes the premise for arguing the next conclusion” (p. 96). For instance, inflation means higher prices, so there is less demand for consumer goods, so economic growth slows down; therefore, inflation means a slow-down in economic growth. This looks like “reason1 leads to conclusion 1. Conclusion 1 leads to conclusion 2, conclusion 2 leads to conclusion 3, and so forth” as in a chain reaction.
– Joint reasoning is where you need more than one reason to lead to the conclusion, but each reason alone is not enough by itself to substantiate the conclusion. For instance, if you are clinically brain dead and you are experiencing an ethereal reality, you are possibly having a Near Death Experience. Just one of the premises alone is not enough to substantiate the Near Death Experience criteria, although, admittedly, they are reported to happen even when people have not been clinically brain dead. This looks like “Reason1 And Reason2 and so forth together lead to the conclusion.”

It’s sane to think that people do not experience their logic in that matter, but it is good to know that you have options for presenting your case.

So for longer documents, you can string multiple reasoning/conclusion patterns together such that the conclusions of each one become a new subset of reasons for an even bigger conclusion. The complexity of the paper intensifies, but you weave together multiple subsets of conclusions into a larger final summation. Your overall argument takes on a whole new life form of weaves and interconnectedness. Isn’t the complexity of logic irresistible?

Complex Reasoning
As an analogy, when you are comparing things like hockey versus football, you can look at what they have different from one another or you can compare and contrast parts of one another. Simply stated, that is complex reasoning: examining two or more bodies of knowledge (each one containing evidence that leads to a conclusion) in a compare/contrast or a strictly contrasting manner.

Perhaps when working with your essays for undergraduate studies, a single line of reasoning that involves substantial evidence leading to a conclusion is more than enough to meet the requirements of the assignment, but when you do a literature review, you are cross-examining a massive amount of information overload. To sort through this overload of data, you could break down the biggest branches of competing knowledge into their own evidence/conclusion formations and then contrast or compare them with one another.

One of my reservations with this system is that it seems to forecast that the data you examine will fit this pattern nicely, or that you will be able to structure the data to fit a pattern precisely. Does it work in every potential study of the literature? Perhaps not always, but here is the secret to writing a phenomenal comparison and/or contrast paper: with a little refining, the more structure?yes, structure?and parallels you can give your mapping of similarities and/or differences, the more structured?and more convincing–your overall argument will be. Try to find nice fits wherever possible.

Machi and McEvoy (2012) describe the structure of complex reasoning patterns:

– Divergent reasoning is where you have two or more bodies of knowledge. For instance, it could be comparing two different theoretical schools that talk about the same subject, such as theorists who espouse the view of multiple intelligences versus those who believe in a singular global intelligence. You can use any of the reasoning patterns above for contrasting the two bodies of knowledge. Sources you can use include “expert opinions, research studies, statistics, expert testimony, and other data” (p. 100). The aim is to single out each and every direct contrast between the two fields of knowledge. This way, you can isolate the strengths and weaknesses of each point-of-view. For example, if you were using the side-by-side reasoning above, where reason one, reason two, and reason three all point to the same conclusion, you would set up both sides of the argument to have side-by-side reasoning, each with their own respective conclusion, and then point out the contrast between each reason on each side. That symmetry is the ideal situation, but you likely won’t be able to capture it in all situations, of course.
– Comparative reasoning is where you imagine the data as a Venn diagram with two or more circles representing each body of knowledge (in this case, it could be multiple intelligence theorists versus global intelligence theorists). Here, the circles overlap at common, similar reasons/conclusions and the circles do not overlap where the reasons/conclusions contrast one another. This gives you more flexibility, as here you are able to focus on both the similarities and differences, so a much broader range of discussion is enabled. Remember, the more symmetry you can get in your argument, the better.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Machi, Lawrence A., & McEvoy, Brenda T. (2012). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.