Everything You Should Know About How to Write a Literature Review

If you have heard of the term “literature review” but have never actually gotten around to doing one yourself, you probably think it is an essay or a research paper. This isn’t the case, however, as a literature review forms part of these academic works, as in a thesis or a dissertation, but it isn’t the subject of these documents in their entirety. You might also assume that a literature review only focuses on text books and journals. However, reviews can encompass anything – from government records to scholarly articles provided these published sources are reputable.

The thing is that writing literature reviews is an important part of helping students develop the skills of close reading, mind mapping and synthesis of information from different sources. As a student, working on an important assignment such as a research paper, you first need to be conversant with the current artisanal state of affairs in your own field or the theoretical frameworks that affect the topic you are working on. Thus, doing a literature review first puts your study into proper perspective bearing in mind what other scholars have done before you and what their own studies have yielded.

What Is a Literature Review? Simple Definition

A literature review or the process of producing one thereof is simply trying to position your own study in a research framework by referencing in a detailed and extensive fashion other related studies in your own work. This allows you to make connections and draw adequate conclusions from these sources while gauging your own work, including such factors as methodologies and assumptions. A literature review either establishes context through an examination of extant factors or simply summarizes current literature. These sources have to be relevant, recent, reputable, and should allow you to make due connections to gauge your own study.

While you may choose to simply summarize these sources, it is prudent to do it logically and through proper synthesis, which means reordering the information in a manner that appeals best to your own study. For example, your intent might be to showcase the progression of HIV preventative treatments through the decades, in which case you might go for a time sequence summary or opt to start with the most well-known research in this field.

How to Write a Good Literature Review

Conducting a lit review helps to avoid reproducing work that has already been researched and helps check for gaps that exist in previous research so that you can solidify your own position. If you cannot showcase an understanding of the past material and make accurate contextual links not only to erstwhile studies but also to your own thesis and research questions, your review will flatly underperform.

The key ingredient to creating a stellar lit review is to have credible sources which have been peer reviewed. Checking the author’s past contributions will allow you to gauge whether they are experts in the field and whether their own biases have clouded their writing process. So what is the extent of the author’s expertise and in the field? Have they conducted a milestone study? A great place to start for your sources is subject specialists in your library or your academic department. The default go-to place is Google Scholar, which unfortunately may provide too many or too few sources but is ultimately great if you’re looking for the most cited works.

How to Start a Literature Review

Once you have zoomed in on sources which could number in the dozens, it’s time to select from the best among these. The best sources are those that also address current conversations and trends. For example, if you were solely focused on a great source in cancer research which was produced in the 1950s, you’d miss out on other great debates and conversations which may look at cancer treatment from a more advanced perspective like nanotechnology. Knowing what to start with writing your review is probably the most difficult part. Reading through these various sources should reveal patterns and trends, different methodologies, and various conclusions attributed to various researchers.

What organization would produce the best effect? Is it arranging your sources and study topically, sequentially, theoretically, chronologically, methodologically, thematically, or geographically? For example, you may want to showcase how various qualitative methodologies were ineffective, thus leading to your use of bootstrapping. Ultimately, you may end up using a combination of all these methods.

How to Structure a Literature Review

A literature review typically begins with a title (which should provide a glimpse of your thesis), an abstract which introduces the purpose and scope of the review (including possible keywords at the bottom), the introduction which introduces your study, research parameters and overall aims of the study, body paragraphs arranged under subheadings, and an astute conclusion. The title should be angled towards the general objectives of the review. Since a lit review is all about compiling and synthesizing from sources, it is important to read analytically as you annotate and make notes, as an alternative to simple highlighting.

Ultimately, your chosen literature review structure should work to enhance your own independent analysis, reflect the purpose of the study, and fulfill any departmental requirements.

Acing Your Literature Review Introduction

The thing is that a great introduction makes your entire lit review excellent as this section does the following:

  • Presents an overview of the study in its entirety.
  • Breaks down a thesis question into specific research, objectives which will be directly linked to the sources.
  • Establishes the parameters of your research, including any anticipated changes or deviations from the previous strategies and methodologies.
  • Places your review into greater context and answers the question of why you are doing the study in the first place.

In the introduction section, you are giving your readers the chance to involve themselves in your study without delving too deep into the detail. This is the best opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding of the research topic in its entirety and the necessity of your study.

Superb Delivery on Your Literature Review Body

As already mentioned, you may divide your body paragraphs into subheadings while seeking various effects through methodological, theoretical, chronological, thematic or any other mode of presentation. Headers should be applied, and topic sentences should be used to introduce the content that follows, with transition sentences being used to connect the various ideas and sections.

Wrap It All Up with Your Literature Review Conclusion

The conclusion is your opportunity to show the reader the purpose of your study and that you fully understand the content and contextual material in the entirety of your research, as presented by a vast array of authors. You can restate your thesis here and also provide a way forward as to why your own study is conclusive (or not), and propose how research in this area can be progressed.

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