How to Write a Literature Review
What is a Literature Review? | Introduction | Body | Conclusion | Final Guidance
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review summarizes, interprets, and evaluates existing "literature" (or published material) in order to establish current knowledge of a subject. It is not a book review, but a survey of a particular subject. The purpose of a literature review is to provide an overview of published research on a topic.
This guide is a general outline of the steps in preparing a literature review. It is assumed that a library search has been performed or is about to be performed. Consult the Library guide,"The Search Strategy," for helpful information in preparing a search on your topic.
Be sure to check with your professor about instructions that may differ from this guide.
Introduction of the Review
• Describe the subject, topic, issue, or controversy.
The description can be more general, because you are presenting a brief overview.
• Present the specific research hypothesis, purpose of the research, or questions about the topic under consideration.
This section within the Introduction provides the reader with the background material and purpose of the review. It should include any controvery over the topic and present other opinions gathered from the research.
• The thesis statement or statement of significance must be specific to the topic under consideration.
The significant statement should be supported by the literature used in the research. Explain the reason you chose the topic and the importance of research in that area.
Example: The need to investigate the training of counselors working with learning disabled children is significant, because the numbers of children identified with the problem has increased.
• Use of the first person may be used in the review.
The use of the first person is allowed, because the review is more personal than a research paper on the topic. Also the flow of the material in the Introduction is smoother when the first person is used.
Example: I observed the negative political advertising directed at less affluent voters during my volunteer work for a senatorial election campaign.
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Body of the Review
• The review should be presented in essay form and should not be a list of the resources used in researching the topic.
Example: "... as it appeared in Smith (1997), 'The use of in-house staff development training has been less successful at the managerial level." (p. 69). Jones (2000) states that all the literature on the subject during the last decade emphasizes a need for new training methods for upper level management. Hale and Greenleaf agree that few training programs have proven effective over time (Hale & Greenleaf, 1999; Ratliff, 2000).
• The review reports the findings of the previous research on a topic, not just the methodologies and measurements used in the research.
Provide more than a brief citation of the study and its research.
Poor Example: A five-year study was conducted by Wallace to compare immigration and educational levels (2001).
Good Example: Wallace (2001) concluded that educational levels of new immigrants to the United States varied by continent and age.The importance of the study is in its length and intensity. The study covered several years and major urban areas.
• Point out trends and themes, as well as gaps in the literature.
• Use direct quotations sparingly.
The flow may be interrupted by the various writing styles of the quoted authors. Remember the review is designed to be an overview; too many direct quotations may bog the reader down in details. Also direct quotations may not convey their full meaning without the context of the entire article.
• Divide the works reviewed into categories (e.g., those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternatives).
You will need to explain their similarities and differences.
• Report sparingly the details of the literature being cited. The research has already been published and is available to the reader.
• Feel free to express opinions about the quality of the literature being cited. That is a part of the review process.
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Conclusion of the Review
• Identify the best pieces of the literature.
Explain why they are convincing.
Explain what contributions they provide to the knowledge of a subject.
Final Points for Guidance
1) Read several reviews of literature, paying attention to how they organize them and how the authors make transitions from one topic to another.
2) After writing your first draft, have it reviewed by friends and colleagues. Even if they are not experts on your topic, their insights are helpful. Ask them to point out elements that are not clear. Effective introductions are usually comprehensible to the intelligent lay reader.
3) Leave time to review and rewrite. Don’t turn in your review after the first draft.
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