PRIMO Site of the Month Interview May 2020


Writing a Literature Review

Creators: Kian Ravaei & Taylor Harper

Institution: University of California, Los Angeles

Interviewees: Kian Ravaei, Taylor Harper, and Doug Worsham

Interviewer: Kimberly Miller

Description of Project (provided by creators):

UCLA WI+RE’s (Writing Instruction + Research Education) “Writing a Literature Review” workshop (Ravaei & Harper, 2019) highlights the key components of a literature review, introduces methods for identifying research gaps, and provides tips on collecting, organizing, and synthesizing sources. The workshop contains interactive learning assessments, various examples, and a downloadable synthesis matrix template.

Q: How did you select “Writing a Literature Review” as a workshop topic? Why do you think literature reviews are an important topic?

A: Literature reviews are a critical element of academic research and writing, offering an overview of what has been previously done in a discipline or field of study. This sounds a lot like writing a summary, with which learners likely have experience. But literature reviews are, of course, more than a summary, requiring learners to synthesize previous research or literature in their field in order to suggest new investigations or developments they might take on in their own work.

It was important to us to not only distinguish between summaries and literature reviews, but also to provide a clear understanding of the role literature reviews play in a field of research. We wanted to support students and learners in the process of situating their own academic work in the larger landscape of research.

Q: Who is the target audience for this workshop? Was it designed for any specific courses?

A: This workshop was not designed for a specific course but rather as a general purpose multi-disciplinary guide to writing literature reviews. But that’s not to say we didn’t consider who would be using the workshop. One of the cornerstones of WI+RE’s process is empathizing with the learners through identifying their roles, goals, and contextual factors that impact learning. Some of our learners might be experienced researchers; others may have never heard of a literature review before. Some may be in the humanities and others in the sciences. We tried to create a resource that could benefit a variety of learners who want to improve their research and writing skills.

Q: Within the workshop, you mention some differences in how disciplines may conduct literature reviews. How did you approach accounting for different disciplines and/or different types of literature reviews within your design?

A: Accounting for disciplinary differences while also highlighting aspects of a process that remain the same across disciplines is a frequent challenge in our instructional design work. This is where our partnerships with communities across campus have a really big impact! WI+RE’s community partners include staff from both of UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Centers, our Writing Programs faculty, the Undergraduate Writing Center, as well as library subject specialists from disciplines across campus. When we’re working on instructional materials, we frequently reach out to these groups for feedback on our prototypes, and to ask questions about how to represent and account for diverse disciplinary approaches.

In this workshop, our discussions with community partners were integral to the development of the “Mars” example that appears in the first video segment in the workshop. Our goal at the beginning of this video is to show how researchers from many different disciplines can look at the same challenge and come up with a wide variety of different research questions. We build on this by showing how researchers in these different disciplines may also use different databases and research tools as part of their process. Our campus partners were crucial in the development of this section, as they helped generate ideas for the different research questions and approaches mentioned in the video.

Q: Since literature reviews can be a bit intimidating for students, how does the workshop try to make the topic more approachable?

A: We try to break down the process of writing a literature review into four discrete steps: introduce the general research topic, discuss previous research, identify a gap in previous research, and state your specific research focus. For each of these steps, we offer tips, guiding questions, and examples. We also think it’s helpful to identify the prerequisite steps to writing a literature review: for example, identifying your research topic, finding relevant sources, and reading to draw connections between sources. There are tips for each of these topics, as well as practical tools, such as the synthesis matrix. Breaking long and daunting processes down into small, achievable steps is something we strive to do in all of our resources.

In general, we have several practices for making our resources feel approachable. We always try to maintain a friendly, conversational tone, both in videos and written text. We avoid “tutorial voice” and instead aim to speak authentically, in our own voices, from one learner to another (UCLA WI+RE, 2019). We also strive to choose examples that are jargon-free, easy-to-understand, and hopefully memorable.

Q: Similar to the “Wheel of Sources” profiled in the March 2019 SOTM interview, this module was created using H5P. Have there been any updates to your design process with this software?

A: For the most part, our core design process has remained the same. We continue to follow WI+RE’s learner-centered and learner-led design process (Brecher Cook & Worsham, 2018; Worsham & Roux, 2019) which begins with empathy mapping and proceeds through learning outcome development, rapid prototyping, and extensive user testing and feedback on our prototypes.

On the technical side, while both “Wheel of Sources” and “Writing a Literature Review” leverage H5P, each uses a different content type. “Wheel of Sources” (Ravaei & Pierre, 2018) was created using the H5P Interactive Video content type, whereas “Writing a Literature Review” uses the Course Presentation content type. The Course Presentation content type is great for incorporating a variety of interactions, such as multiple-choicemultiple choice questions, free responses, and videos. 

The H5P community is continually updating the platform with new features and bug fixes that improve our workflow. We’re especially grateful for the new copy-paste feature. We have our fingers crossed for an undo button in the near future!

Q: The workshop is available for reuse under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license. What do librarians need to know in order to adapt the module for their own use?

A: We deeply value open educational resources and want to make sure all of our work is easy to share, re-use, and re-purpose!

There are a few different options for using or adapting this workshop. You can:

  • Link: The easiest option is probably to just link directly to the workshop page on our website.
  • Embed: To include the workshop on one of your research guides or in your campus course management system, you can click the “<> Embed” icon that appears below the workshop. This will give you a short snippet of HTMLhtml code that you can use on just about any other website. Taking this approach is a lot like embedding a YouTube video. For example, if you use Springshare’s LibGuides, there is a tool called “Media / Widget” which makes it easy to incorporate the workshop into one of your guides.
  • Adapt: You can also edit and adapt to the workshop. To start this process, you’ll need to either create a free account at or integrate an H5P plug-in into one of the supported platforms (which include Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, WordPress, and Drupal). Either way, it would be a good idea to check out some of the H5P documentation to get to know the tool. Once you are set up with H5P, you can click the “Reuse” link on the workshop page to download a copy of the workshop as an H5P file. Then, upload the file into your H5P environment, and edit away! We’d love to hear about your adaptations, so please contact WI+RE to let us know how things are going or if you have any questions.! And, to make it easy to include attribution on your adaption, here’s a citation:

Ravaei, K., & Harper, T. (2019, January 7). Writing a Literature Review [Workshop]. WI+RE – Quick and Practical Research and Writing Tutorials, Collaboratively Designed by Students at UCLA.

Q: What is your process for approaching and checking for accessibility? How did you incorporate universal design principles into this workshop?

A: Accessibility and universal design are essential aspects of the shared values we articulate in our team manifesto (Harper et al., 2020; UCLA WI+RE, 2019):

Pursue universal design at every stage of the process.

Accessibility and usability are not checkboxes at the end of a project, but areas of continual importance that can always be improved.

To put this value into practice, we strive to integrate accessibility, usability, and universal design into each stage of our projects. This begins with empathy mapping, in which we push ourselves to explore the diversity of learners and learning contexts and center our designs around learners and their goals. As we move through the design process, our project checklist includes a number of accessibility-related prompts to help us make sure we meet and exceed accessibility guidelines. This means that as we work through a project, there are prompts and reminders about including alternate text for images and subtitles for videos as well as several prompts to conduct usability tests and reviews on our prototypes with both teachers and learners. The checklist really helps us make sure we incorporate these steps throughout every project. This is also another area where campus partnerships are essential. Our partnership with UCLA’s Disabilities Computing Program has been instrumental in helping us test and continually improve our resources for accessibility. We have learned quite a bit and are always looking for ways to improve our processes!

For this project, in addition to making sure the workshop meets overall accessibility requirements and best practices, we need to take into account the various interaction and activity types within H5P. Fortunately, H5P itself is authored by an open-sourceopen source community that is also committed to accessible instructional materials, and they do a good job of communicating the accessibility status for each of their activities on their website.

Q: How are you assessing the module’s success? Have you had a chance to review the results?

A: WI+RE’s approach to assessment follows a continual improvement model. We never really consider any of our projects as completely “done” but instead try to get to the point where a prototype has been reviewed multiple times by a variety of people. We call this the “publishable prototype” stage, and that’s when we publish the resource online, start sharing it, and start working with our community partners to integrate the materials into courses. This also means that assessment begins before the module is published, in that by the time we reach a publishable prototype many people from across campus have provided feedback and advice, and seen their suggestions incorporated into subsequent prototypes. In this case, our campus partners at the Undergraduate Writing Center and our two Undergraduate Research Centers were very actively engaged in the development process, and provided extensive guidance and feedback as the workshop was developed. 

At the moment, we’re working with our campus partners to get the word out about the workshop and encourage adoption and incorporation into course curricula. Starting last quarter, we had informal positive feedback from instructors and students, and we’re looking forward to learning more! For many of our other workshops, we use pre-/post- surveys with both qualitative and quantitative elements to gain insight into learner experiences and ascertain the effectiveness in helping learners achieve the learning outcomes. With this workshop, we’re hoping to again be able to partner with our campus Center for Educational Assessment to develop and analyze the results of pre-/post- survey data. 

Q: I noticed that WI+RE uses the term “workshop” rather than “tutorial” to describe this online learning object. Can you tell me more about this distinction?

A: For our online learning objects, we consider how many identified learning outcomes there might be. Tutorials tend to involve 1-3 learning outcomes with a more narrowed focus or topic of research support (e.g. our quick tutorials on generating research questions or expanding perspectives in your research). 

Workshops, on the other hand, typically have between 4-7 learning outcomes. Workshops are often designed to guide a learner through a series of smaller learning outcomes focused on a process, rather than a final product, as the overarching goal of a particular learning object. 

In particular, we identified that “Writing a Literature Review” would require more steps than just a breakdown of how to write a literature review. We also thought it was important to distinguish why it is important to write a literature review. Further distinguishing between summaries and literature reviews was also a key learning outcome in our workshop.

Interestingly, many of the things we have developed initially as tutorials end up as component pieces of or inspiration for longer format workshops. This happens in “Writing a Literature Review” as well, in that both of the video elements inside of the workshop were originally published on their own as short tutorials. We have found that providing both longer format workshops and the shorter tutorials is useful in that it provides additional flexibility and options for both learners and teachers!


Brecher Cook, D., & Worsham, D. (2018). Let’s Build Something (The Toolkit).

Ravaei, K., & Harper, T. (2019, January 7). Writing a Literature Review [Workshop]. WI+RE – Quick and Practical Research and Writing Tutorials, Collaboratively Designed by Students at UCLA.

Ravaei, K., & Pierre, J. (2018). Wheel of Sources.

UCLA WI+RE. (2019, March 11). WI+RE’s Manifesto—The WI+RE Way.

Worsham, D., & Roux, S. (2019). Foundations in Learner-Centered Design.