Lit Review || Case Study
What is the Literature Review?
A "literature review" is not a stand-alone publication (see the main Case Study and Lit Review assignment page for reviews as a stand-alone article); rather, it is the portion of a research report or case study in which the author reviews the literature as it pertains to the research question explored in the study. Literature reviews (lit reviews) in research reports and case studies fulfill two functions: (1) inform the reader of concepts needed to understand the paper; and (2) persuade the reader that the research question or POV is credible. Shorter lit reviews do not use topic subheadings; longer lit reviews do.
The social and behavioral sciences boasts the widest range of possible formats -- this means that you, as the writer, enjoy a good deal of freedom for how you wish to structure an article. This is good because you have some flexibility for maximizing the design of an article according to your needs. This is bad because that flexibility means you have to work harder to make your written material clear and comprehensible. A recommendation for you -- embrace the structural/functional power of the subheading. It is your single greatest writing tool for organizing complex material, which is a beautiful thing!
Think of the literature review as having 3 main moves. First, the "Introduction" -- an opening paragraph or two that orients the reader to the topic at the widest point relevant to the paper. Second, the literature review itself -- several paragraphs, organized using topical subheadings, explaining the most important concepts driving the research. Third, 2-3 closing paragraphs that clearly express the gap/conflict found in the literature and state your research question clearly.
The introduction to the literature review is a brief, general overview of the case study object which offers a definition and explanation of the site. The final sentence/s indicate the topics covered in the body of the literature review. Let's take a look at a marked example from Hannah Rogers' UF Dissertation.
The Body of the Literature Review
The body of the literature review will synthesize information on the topics which are directly relevant to your research question ("perspective" or "point of view" on case site).
The Research Question
The "research question" is the explicit statement of what you're evaluating in the case site.
The Case Study
A case study is a close examination of a person, project, place, or organization for the purpose of revealing some successful, unsuccessful, or interesting point of view. Generally speaking, case studies are written about "typical" cases when the object of study demonstrates success or failure -- these are the kinds of case studies used for educational goals. When the object of study shows something interesting or atypical, then the case study is more like an especially informative research project.
Case studies depend on a "point of view" (POV) or perspective from which the case object is examined. For example, if a site claims to be a "sustainable building that makes less demand on the environment and puts less strain on the environment, too!" as Kohls, in Gainesville, Florida, broadcasts on its in-store audio programming, that claim can be tested by a close site analysis. This would yield a case study that evaluates the Kohls from the perspective of sustainability, particular with regard to relationships with the environment.
Note: I'll refer to the object of the case study as a "site" from now on. Please understand that ANY close
examination of a person, project, place, or organization qualifies as a case study.
Step One: historical and geographic context
Case studies begin by placing the site in its historical and geographic context. There is always a "story" of how the site came to be, and particularly, how it came to be in the place it is located. This information is accessed largely through publicly available documents -- fortunately, the Internet has made getting hold of these documents much easier! Many cities/towns have ".org", ".com" or ".info" that permit access to a variety of documents. The National Archives and Census Bureau are other places to look for information. Other possibilities include interviews with community members and site designers.
This section is organized from general to specific, and from outer boundaries to inner boundaries. Historically, start with a very brief history of the city in which the site is located (e.g., when it was founded, population statistics, etc.), including any organizations or groups that had an impact on how the site developed.
Geographically, describe the "outer" or neighborhood environment of the site and work inwards to the outside of the site; this point, dimensions of the site should be included.
The interior of the site needs to include physical structures accompanied by functional descriptions where it makes sense to do so. For example, a large open space should have function-specific details about how it's designed to be used.
Step Two: the case site analysis
The body of this article is your report on what you observed at the case site. Broadly speaking, there are 3 moves to the body: 1) a methods statement; 2) report on built environment; 3) report on specific aspect/s being observed.
The reader needs to know how you conducted your study. Similar to the "methods" section in a research report, you will state how the observation was actually conducted. Begin with day and time of observation (specify how long you stayed), your physical position, and what you did (e.g. took notes, took photos, sketched, etc.).
Though you could use a second-level subheading such as "Observation Method", it isn't really necessary. This section will be short -- a few sentences, written in the past tense, that briefly describe the process of the observation and which start the case site analysis.
The next move is to explain what you were looking at; in other words, the specific part of the built environment you were observing. This should be a close description that is supported with photos or sketches. Remember that the reader of scholarly text wants to find information quickly. This means that this description will be written in short paragraphs wherein each paragraph describes a single feature. For example, one paragraph may describe hard structures, another may describe paths, while another describes aesthetic or natural features. If you are observing more than one specific space, then use subheadings for each part to better direct the reader's attention. Also, write each description in parallel form so that the information pattern is the same across all descriptions.
Note: you may want to take photos during a time when the space is mostly vacant. People get a bit freaked out when someone is taking pictures of them! Journalists usually have to ask permission to publish photos, especially when there is enough information to identify a person.
Now that you've set the stage with a close description of the built environment, you can report on what your were looking for -- the behavioral observations. You have many choices here, but for this assignment, you will probably have two major sets of observations: 1) the demographic/population observations; 2) the behavioral observations. (And these are probably combined/intertwined in your notes!)
First, provide a report on the demographic aspect you were looking for. Logically, if you want the reader to understand how a certain type of person used a particular park feature, then reporting on the people first makes it easier to refer to them when explaining observed behavior. For example, I might write:
"During the time I observed, seven caretaker-child dyads used the playground. Three of these dyads were Black American, 2 dyads were White, 2 were Hispanic, and 1 dyad was East or West Indian. Though I only passively observed the playground, it became clear based on appearance and overheard conversation that 2 of the Black dyads were not parent-child, but 'other family'-child (it was not clear if the other family were older siblings or cousins). Both White and Hispanic dyads appeared to be mother-child, while the East/West Indian dyad appeared to be father-child. Child age seemed young, ranging from toddlers who could walk well to young school aged children."
Note that first person (I, my) is okay -- you are the only researcher, and you are the one doing the observing, so your presence in the text is acceptable. Also, the use of perception verbs such as "appeared" or "seemed" is acceptable in this context if you didn't ask individuals about their ethnicity and gender status.
Next, begin the report of your behavioral observations. You may find it useful to remind the reader of your POV (the specific perspective from which you observed). Continuing the example above, let's say that I was looking specifically at behavioral interactions between caretaker and child as the child used playground equipment. This means I am NOT looking at interactions between caretakers or interactions between children. I am specifically looking at what happens between the caretaker and child as the child makes choices about using playground equipment.
Look for patterns in these observations, especially as they intersect with demographics. As an example, I could find patterns in playground use that hinge on age, ethnicity, and gender of both caretaker and child. In this case, I could create subheadings for "When Caretakers are Women" and "When Caretakers are Men". Within each broad category, I could discuss apparent age, gender of child, and intersection of these variables as children use the playground. (e.g. who sits on the bench, who follows the child to each piece of equipment, what happens when child doesn't use the playground equipment).
Step Three: conclusion
The final part of the case study is the conclusion or discussion, where you get to speculate on your observations and what they tell us about design. Again, there are generally three parts: 1) restate POV + meta-statement regarding observations; 2) specific observations and their implications; 3) implications for future research and/or design.
Move One: Restate POV + Meta Statement
The reader has just read through a lot of detail -- before moving onto implications of that detail, remind the reader of what they've been reading for. Simply restate the research question or research perspective that drove this case study. Then, craft a sentence or two which broadly state the outcomes of the study.
"Playgrounds in urban parks are meant to be places where younger children can explore and develop physical abilties, be safely exposed to nature, and learn to interact in socially-appropriately ways with other children. The built structures of playgrounds may or may not achieve these goals for all park users, especially younger children and their caretakers. As even this simple observational study revealed, the presence or absence of certain built structures drives different uses by children, especially when the child seems more introverted or quiet. In addition, the space around and between playground structures permits some kinds of dyad interactions (for example, a caretaker pushing a child on the swing) while limiting others (shorter caretakers forbidding climbing equipment). Finally, nature features such as trees had a clear impact on the usability of playground features: at midday, equipment that wasn't shaded could not be used by children or caretakers would not permit their use."
Move Two: Specific Observations and Implications
Each paragraph in the final section should discuss a single outcome and its implications for design. Limitations and speculation can also be included here.
"An unexpected observation was what happened when a child was not inclined to use the playground equipment. In one dyad, the child was uninterested in the hard equipment, choosing instead to play on the ground, creating piles of sand, small stones, and leaves. His caretaker (mother, White) allowed this behavior for a few minutes, then approached the child and tried to get him interested in climbing in the plastic tunnel and using the balance stepping stones. The child resisted, aquiesced to his mother's demands, then went back to his piles of debris as soon as she returned to the bench. The playground equipment did not include a sandbox or other quiet, tactile-specific feature, meaning that children who were less adventurous or even afraid did not have a socially-acceptable park feature to use. Inclusion of such a feature would result in a environmentally-sanctioned activity, increasing the utility of the space for more users."
Move Three: Implications for the Future
The final paragraph begins with a statement of how this study impacts the landscape architecture field. Finish the paragraph with a suggestion for future research and/or application to design practices.
Media: evidence through visual documentation
Remember your observation notes should provide the following detailed information about the child:
- child’s age,
- physical appearance,
- the setting, and
- any other important background information.
You should observe the child a minimum of 5 hours. Make sure you DO NOT use the child's real name in your observations. Always use a pseudo name for course assignments.
You will use your observations to help write your narrative. When submitting your observations for the course please make sure they are typed so that they are legible for your instructor. This will help them provide feedback to you.
A qualitative observation is one in which you simply write down what you see using the anecdotal note format listed below.
A quantitative observation is one in which you will use some type of checklist to assess a child's skills. This can be a checklist that you create and/or one that you find on the web. A great choice of a checklist would be an Ounce Assessment and/or work sampling assessment depending on the age of the child. Below you will find some resources on finding checklists for this portion of the case study. If you are interested in using Ounce or Work Sampling, please see your program director for a copy.
For both qualitative and quantitative observations, you will only write down what your see and hear. Do not interpret your observation notes. Remain objective versus being subjective.
An example of an objective statement would be the following: "Johnny stacked three blocks vertically on top of a classroom table." or "When prompted by his teacher Johnny wrote his name but omitted the two N's in his name."
An example of a subjective statement would be the following: "Johnny is happy because he was able to play with the block." or "Johnny omitted the two N's in his name on purpose."