In research, conducting a literature review is meant to allow the researcher to interact with the relevant body of knowledge that is documented on a particular subject. The researcher can then contribute his or her work to the conversation. In academic research, these conversations are represented in the literature.
For practitioner researchers, this is not always the case. The authors of Dancing in the Dark argue that “practitioners’ knowledge is not necessarily framed by and in interaction with the current research literature on the field; rather it is mostly based in their experience” (Niks et al., 2003, p. 9). This then poses challenges for practitioner researchers as they attempt to contribute, through their research, to the creation of knowledge while accurately reflecting practitioners’ ways of knowing. Conversations that practitioners engage in with one another to advance the field of knowledge often take different formats than academic research writing. Formal and informal ongoing verbal discussions, workshops, face-to-face and electronic conferences are all ways that practitioners enter into the discourse about their work.
For example, it was by attending a pre-conference workshop that I first began my conversation with the literature on the use of students’ personal narratives in the classroom. Daryl Caswell and Barbara Schneider facilitated a workshop where participants experienced and then discussed the use of students’ personal narratives in the classroom as a valuable teaching technique. The presenters approached the topic through the field of communications theory. Excited by my personal experience with the strategy, and because I intended to research the use of students’ personal narratives in my classroom, I felt a responsibility to understand the theory behind the practical teaching strategy that I was inspired to try. As a result, I began a traditional literature review by looking at the work of Walter Fisher, a communications theorist referred to by Caswell and Schneider.
In the articles I read, Fisher (1984, 1985, 1989, 1997) describes, elaborates and defends the narrative paradigm on communication theory that he developed. For the most part, these readings were too field-specific for me to be able to fully understand the arguments that were being presented. As I have no background knowledge in communication theory, I could not always follow Fisher situating his own paradigm in relationship to other communication theories.