How to Write a Literature Review

What is a Literature Review? A literature review is a form of writing that investigates various publications in a particular subject area. When writing a literature review, you are required to read and evaluate various sources relating to the core subject and present each distinctive comprehension of the publication. A literature review is a requirement […]

Posted: September 29th, 2021

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a form of writing that investigates various publications in a particular subject area. When writing a literature review, you are required to read and evaluate various sources relating to the core subject and present each distinctive comprehension of the publication. A literature review is a requirement when writing a larger paper such as a dissertation or a research paper, but it sometimes be assigned as a stand-alone assignment. The literature review combines a summary with a synthesis of the documents used. A summary is a brief outline of the significant information in the article or journal while a synthesis is a re-arrangement of the information that provides the work with a unique and new meaning.

Importance of a Literature Review

This is a significant chapter as it is a summary of the main points of a certain field. The summary provides an appropriate look for all relevant materials.  As such, if you are running out of time, a literature reviews provides you with a summary of all the information requirements for your assignment. This review also helps build your professional work.

The way you present your literature review depicts whether or not you know what you are doing. If you create a literature review in the right way, then you are on the right track towards attaining academic writing proficiency. The main objective of a literature review is to synthesize and summarize the ideas developed by previous authors, without presenting personal opinions or any other additional information. But, the objective is not only to summarize ideas, a literature review also helps the writer notice a core principle or trend in all the publications.

Structure of a Literature Review

Like other forms of academic writing, the standard academic essay structure applies for a literature review, that is, introduction, main body and conclusion.

  1. Introduction

You should direct the reader towards the main organizing principle, that is, present the information starting from a broad perspective and steadily narrow down until you reach your main point.

Begin by presenting your general concept. Then narrow down your introduction’s concentration towards the main organizing principle by talking about the method you used to choose the sources of literature. Conclude the introduction with a presentation of your main organizing principle that has to directly link to all the sources of literature.

  1. Main Body Paragraphs

Normally, each paragraph in a literature review focuses on a certain literature source as presented in the essay’s introduction. Since each source has an individual frame of reference, it is important to structure the literature review in a logical and consistent way. The writing can be structured methodologically, thematically, chronologically, or theoretically.

  • Methodological

This is where the writer draws sources from different fields or disciplines using a variety of research methods. The results and conclusions that surface from different approaches are the compared. For example:

  • Theoretical versus empirical scholarship
  • Quantitative versus qualitative research
  • Thematic

If you identify some recurring central themes that are still useful throughout your work, you can organize the literature review into subsections addressing different features of the topic. For instance, when reviewing literature on religion and women, the main themes can include religious attitude towards women and women’s role in the church. Ensure that you divide the research by cultural, historical, or sociological sources.

  • Chronological

This is the simplest approach where the writer traces the progress of the topic, which helps in familiarizing your audience with the topic. If you follow this path, be cautious about simply listing and summarizing information sources in order. You can attempt to analyze the trends, turning points, and major debates that have designed the direction of the field. Provide your understanding of why and how certain development happened – if it is required by your teacher or mentor.

  • Theoretical

In most humanities articles, a literature review is the basis for a theoretical framework. A theoretical framework is used to discuss models, theories, and definitions of the main concepts. Your argument can be on the relevance of a particular theoretical approach or merge various theoretical ideas to develop a framework for your paper.

  1. Conclusion

After a presentation of your findings in the main body paragraphs, you have three objectives to include in your essay’s conclusion.

The first objective is to summarize you have made or identified in other words and concisely state what you’ve learned.

After discussing this information, the second objective is to state the implication of the information in relation to the current world. In other words, how can the information be applied in today’s world by the reader?

The third objective is to leave the reader with a trail of thought regarding the essay topic. This will provide the reader with a means for further research, which means that the reader can consider the future direction of the discussion.

How to Write a Literature Review

Whether your literature review is within the structure of a larger research paper, such as a dissertation or thesis, or an individual assignment, the writing approach remains the same.

Let us look at the steps you should follow when writing a literature review.

  1. Identify the Topic

This is perhaps the only issue you may handle differently depending on whether the literature review is a separate assignment or within a research paper. If the literature review is a part of another project, search for literature associated with your main problem and research questions. On the other hand, if the literature review is a stand-alone project, you need to choose a relevant topic and core question for which you will collect the literature.

  1. Conduct Research

When you find a clearly defined topic, you can now begin collecting literature for the review. We suggest you start by assembling a list of applicable keywords related to your main question. This is to make the whole research process simpler and aid in finding relevant publications. Use your keywords list to search for relevant and valid sources. Ensure that you only use credible sources, such as those from online scientific databases, university libraries, etc. after locating some sources, establish their relevance to your research questions and topic. Instead of reading an entire article, read the abstract to get a general idea of what the paper is about.

  1. Evaluate and Rank Sources

As you conduct your research, you will find a lot of relevant literature that you can include in the literature review. Many students try to fit all the collected sources in the literature review, which is a mistake. Our recommendation is for you to look at what you have collected, evaluate the sources, and choose the most relevant ones. Most likely, you will not manage to read everything you collect on the topic and then synthesize all the sources into one literature review. That is why you need to prioritize your sources.

Consider the following when choosing the sources to prioritize:

  • Relevancy
  • Key insights
  • Innovation
  • Novelty
  • Influence
  • Credibility

Additionally, as you go through the sources, do not forget to write down everything that can later be used in the review. Also, have your citations in order early on. Citing the selected sources at the start will make it easier to craft an annotated bibliography later on.

  1. Identify Gaps, Key Ideas, and Relationships

Before you proceed to the outlining and writing stage of the literature review, determine the relationship between existing studies. Identifying these relationships will help in organizing the existing knowledge, create a compact literature review outline, and show your contribution to research in a certain field.

Note the points below:

  • Debates and contradictions
  • Main themes
  • Theories or influential studies
  • Patterns and trends
  • Gaps

For example, common trends can concentrate on particular groups of people through different studies. There might be an increased interest among researchers in some parts of the topic in relation to key themes. Inconsistencies may be a disagreement regarding the theories and results of a study. Lastly, gaps represent lack of sufficient research on some features of a topic.

  1. Make an Outline

Students tend to disregard this stage, but creating an outline is an essential step in academic writing. This is the simplest way to arrange the body of your paper to ensure that you have not left out anything important. Moreover, when you have a rough idea of what you will write about in your literature review, it will be easier and faster even to write the rest of the paper.

  1. Start Writing

Having located and created all your citations, notes, sources, and creating a detailed outline, you can now start writing the literature review. All you have to do is stick to the plan you created and remember the general format and structure detailed in your professor’s instructions.

  1. Proofread and Edit

The proofreading and editing stage is something that most students tend to disregard. We suggest that you take sufficient time in proofreading and editing to ensure that your paper is worth a high score. Do not underrate the significance of editing and proofreading and set aside enough time to do this. These steps will be helpful when creating a high-quality literature review.

Tips to Keep in Mind when Creating a Literature Review

  1. Avoid Generalizations

Remember that every literature piece will approach the main organizing principle from a different perspective. As the author, ensure that you presents the differences in perspectives clearly and do not include common statements that provide no value.

  1. Synthesize your Literature

Make sure that literature review structure is done in the appropriate way, be it theoretically, methodologically, thematically, or chronologically. Know well in advance what you want to say and organize the source contrast accordingly.

  1. Worthy Sources

When writing a literature review, you should always aim to find the best sources of information. This means that you should pick and evaluate about 5-10 different sources. The more a piece of literature portrays the main point, the better the quality of your literature review.

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