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Writing a Literature Review

Where do I start? A guide to writing a literature review.

Writing the Review

You've done the research and now your ready to put your findings down on paper. When preparing to write your review, first consider how will you organize your review.

The actual review generally has 5 components:

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Body
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

A good literature review shows signs of synthesis and understanding of the topic. There should be strong evidence of analytical thinking as illustrated through the connections you make between the literature being reviewed. Think of it this way- a literature review is much more than a book review. It is a document where you present your sources and their overall relationship to your thesis statement.

Conversly, a poor literature review will simply list and identify the sources. In essence, it will appear to be a glorifed annotated bibliography.

The Abstract

An abstract is a summary of your literature review. It is made up of the following parts:

  1. A contextual sentence about your motivation behind your research topic
  2. Your thesis statement
  3. A descriptive statement about the types of literature used in the review
  4. Summarize your findings
  5. Conclusion(s) based upon your findings

The Introduction

Like a typical research paper introduction, provide the reader with a quick idea of the topic of the literature review:

  • Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern. This provides the reader with context for reviewing the literature.
  • Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
  • Establish the your reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).

The Body

The body of a literature review contains your discussion of sources and can be organized in 3 ways-

  1. Chronological- by publication or by trend
  2. Thematic- organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time
  3. Methodical- the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the "methods" of the literture's researcher or writer that you are reviewing

You may also want to include a section on "questions for further research" and discuss what questions the review has sparked about the topic/field or offer suggestions for future studies/examinations that build on your current findings.

The Conclusion

In the conclusion, you should:

  • Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession

The Bibliography

Since a literature review is composed of pieces of research, it is very important that your correctly cite the literature you are reviewing, both in the reviews body as well as in a bibliography/works cited. To learn more about different citation styles, visit the "Citing Your Sources" tab.