How to write a good literature review
If the idea on how to write a good literature review horrifies you, why not search for professional experts who are capable of solving all your problems with written assignments. A literature review is a detailed and scrupulous survey of different scholarly sources, which includes books, theses, journal articles, dissertations etc.) on a specific topic. It is supposed to give a clear overview of essential findings, developments or concepts related to a certain research problem or research question(s). A literature review is a well-written overview of key writings, as well as other related sources on a chosen topic. All the sources presented in the review can comprise scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles, Web sites, government reports, books, etc. A literature review is to provide a summary, description, as well as evaluation of every source utilized. It is usually provided as a separate section of a dissertation or thesis.
Purpose of the literature review: Essential tips
The key purpose of each literature review is to provide a critically discussed and written account of the up-to-date research conducted so far on the topic under study:
- It is necessary to identify the prior scholarship
- It is recommended to place every source in the context of its contributions to the comprehension of a certain area of research, issue, or theory that is under thorough review.
- It is advised to describe the relationship of every source to the other ones that have been selected.
- It is necessary to identify new ways to further interpret, and shed light on possible gaps found in previous researches.
- It is recommended to point out the way for future research.
Below are some of essential literature review guidelines suggested by our experts.
Cases when a literature review is required
If you work on your dissertation or thesis, you are supposed to carry out a literature review in order to situate your future research within the scope of the existing and up-to-date knowledge. You should incorporate it in your introduction or theoretical research framework. It could also be a separate section or chapter coming before the methodology, as well as discussion and results chapters. You could also be asked to present a literature review as a separate paper. Take into account that the content may differ in each of the cases, but the process of carrying out a literature review should stick to the steps indicated below. Please carefully read through all the steps that could explain to you how to organize a literature review accordingly.
Learn more about how to write a literature review for dissertation: "Dissertation literature review"
Step 1: Collection, evaluation and selection of the literature related to the chosen topic
- Before you starting seeking the literature needed, you should define your topic very clearly.
If you compose the literature review chapter of your research paper, dissertation, or thesis, you should seek the literature related to the research questions and problem set. It is the first step in realizing the state of knowledge on the chosen topic before you commence your detailed research. In case you complete a literature review, which is supposed to be your stand-alone written task, you will should choose specific focus and then develop a key question that will direct your future search. The following question should be answerable without the need for the collection or generation novel data. You should be capable of answering it based only on the review of the available and up-to-date publications and sources.
- Search for the related literature sources utilizing citations and keywords
Start by completing the list of frequently used keywords related to the research topic and research question set. When you come across useful articles, check the list of references to look for more relevant sources. In order to identify any significant and related publications that failed to show up in the search of your keyword, take note of the citations that reoccur. If the same books, articles or researchers go on appearing in the reading, ensure to seek them out.
- Evaluation and selection of the sources related to the topic
Probably, you will not be capable of reading all the materials related to the topic chosen by you—begin by reading the abstracts to determine whether the selected articles are useful and significant. You should evaluate which of the sources are most relevant and valuable to your research questions. For every publication, you should put such questions to yourself:
- What problem or question has the researcher addressed?
- What are the essential concepts of the research under analysis and how have they been defined and explicated?
- What are the most recent theories, methods, models, strategies, techniques, designs, etc? Does the research apply the established framework or take new approaches?
- What are the key results, findings, or conclusions of the research conducted?
- How does the chosen source relate to other literature in the same field of science? Does it contribute to, challenge, confirm or contradict the previous knowledge or achievements?
- How does the chosen source contribute to the understanding of the set topic? What are its most significant insights, arguments, or counter-arguments?
- What are the weaknesses or strengths of the research?
Ensure the sources used are credible and reliable. Consider that the scope of your literature review depends on your topic and subject: in the sciences, you are to review the recent literature published, but in the humanities and arts, you should make emphasis on historical perspective in order to trace how the concept chosen has shifted in meaning over some time.
- Take informative notes and cite the sources accordingly
While reading, you should commence the process of writing—take notes that you will be capable of utilizing later by incorporating them into the text of your future literature review. Take into account that it is of great significance to keep scrupulous track of each source with citations so as to avoid the plagiarism issues. It is reasonable to prepare an annotated bibliography, which is supposed to compile all information or the sources and reference used and complete a paragraph of a summary, as well as analysis for every source. This measure assists you in remembering what you have read about and allows saving some time later in the thesis or dissertation process of writing.
Check also our article: "Top tips on how to review an article"
Step 2: Find common themes and connections
To commence structuring a literature review, you should clearly identify possible relationships between the selected sources. Based on your notes, you are capable of seeking:
- Common patterns and trends (in theory, design, method, results, or findings;
- Themes: what concepts or questions recur across different sources?
- Debates, contradictions, and conflicts: where do the sources under analysis disagree?
- Essential sources: are there any useful, influential or practical studies or theories that have changed or contributed the direction of the chosen field or area under study?
- Gaps: what has not been covered in the literature? Are there any weaknesses worthwhile addressing?
The following step will assist you in working out the literature review structure of yours, as well as show how your future research could contribute to the existing and up-to-date knowledge.
Step 3: Plan the structure of the literature review
There are different approaches to the literature review structure. You should have a clear idea of your future strategy before you commence working on your scientific project. Depending on the literature review length, you are capable of combining several of the strategies indicated—for instance, the overall structure of your literature review may be thematic, but every theme should be discussed in a chronological order.
Such a literature review is referred to as a basis for a theoretical framework. It can be used to discuss different theories, definitions of key concepts, or models.
You can argue for the relevance of certain theoretical approaches, designs or doctrines, as well as to combine different theoretical concepts in order to create a research framework.
If you managed to find some themes that are constantly repeated while conducting literature review, you can structure your review into several sub-sections addressing various aspects of the topic under analysis.
The easiest approach is to follow the development of the chosen topic over some time. In case you choose such a strategy, you should avoid simply summarizing and listing the sources in a certain order. You should analyze turning points, essential debates or patterns that have shaped the direction of the chosen scientific field.
If you get your sources from various fields or disciplines that utilize a wide scope of research methods, then you are recommended to compare the research results as well as conclusions emerging from various approaches or strategies.
Step 4: Compose your literature review assignment
Like any other custom or academic writing, a literature review is to comprise an introduction, a main body, as well as a conclusion.
The introduction is aimed at clearly establishing the focus and research aim of a literature review.
- Dissertation literature review
In case you are to compose a literature review as part of your future thesis or dissertation, reiterate your key problem / research questions, as well as include a summary of the recently published context of research.
- Stand-alone literature review
If you compose a stand-alone piece of writing, provide a background on the chosen topic and its significance, discuss the scope of the chosen literature that will be reviewed and state your aim and objectives. What novel insights will you be capable of drawing from the literature under analysis?
Depending on the needed or set length of a literature review, it is allowed to divide the body into several subsections or sub-chapters. You can utilize a subheading for every theme, a methodological approach, or a time period.
While working on your future literature review, keep to the below-indicated tips:
- Provide a summary and synthesis: give a clear overview of the key points of every source and try to combine each of them into a understandable and coherent text;
- Provide analysis and interpretation: you should not only paraphrase other words by researchers. Try to add your interpretations where it is possible and appropriate, discussing the importance of the findings or conclusions in relation to the literature as the whole;
- Provide a critical evaluation: indicate the weaknesses as well as strengths of each of the sources under analysis;
- Write in the well-structured and well-thought-out paragraphs: utilize transitional words and phrases, and topic sentences so as to draw specific connections, provide comparisons, and emphasize contrasts.
In the conclusion, it is recommended to summarize the most significant findings that you have drawn from the literature and make emphasis on their significance.
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