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How to Write a Stellar Literature Review | Step-by-Step Guide

Feb 22, 2022

Feb 22, 2022 | Blog

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What Is a Literature Review

A literature review is a systematic, scientific analysis of a body of work. It is an objective, impartial examination of the relevant evidence. A literature review is also a formal way of describing the research you’ve read without saying anything definitive.

The point of a literature review is to summarize the research done on a particular topic. If you don’t know what to say, start by reading everything written about it. Then set yourself the task of writing down the main points. For instance, a student might be asked to do a survey of scholarly sources and provide a new interpretation of old sources or combine old and new references.

Sometimes you have to make choices based on what you find most interesting, but if you can’t decide, use a systematic review as a starting point. The method is simple: read everything written and make a list of the points you want to make.

On the other hand, The annotated bibliography summarizes what was said in the book; it does not evaluate it or tell you what to think about it or decide whether it is good or bad.

The construction of literature reviews provides the current and complete knowledge on a given topic as published in academic journals and books. Scholars usually write literature reviews on topics with limited information.

Read also: Literature Review Example

What is the significance of a literature review?

What is the significance of a literature review?

The main purpose of a literature review is to summarize and organize the ideas from previous publications.

A lit review should be objective and should not add information that is not published.

But, it is not just supposed to summarize sources – a writer should connect the sources by looking for common ideas or trends.

Another purpose of a literature review is to provide a useful guide and an overview of a particular topic with limited sources.

Therefore, it comes in handy when you do not have enough time to conduct thorough research.

The ability to scan the literature efficiently, using manual or computerized methods, to identify a set of useful articles and books critical appraisal

Things To Do Before Beginning Your Literature Review

Before beginning your literature review:

Seek clarity from the lecturer

Confirm from your lecturer:

  • The number and types of sources to include
  • If you need to evaluate the sources
  • And, if subheadings and additional information is mandatory

Revise other Literature reviews

Look at other research literature reviews in our field or course. Going through such literature reviews will give you a clearer idea of writing your review. Furthermore, these previous research literature reviews in your field will have references to be a good place to start your research literature reviews.

Narrow down the scope of your research

Some topics have many sources. And, your lecturer probably does not expect you to include all of them in your review.

Therefore, you need to narrow your topic to reduce the material you have to go through.

Consider the date of your sources.

Let’s say you are writing the lit review about treating a certain medical condition.

Medical procedures change regularly to accommodate current research.

So, when writing a review, you need updated sources as references that are even a year old could be out-of-date.

On the contrary, if you are writing on a thematic review in social sciences, the chronological review might require you to assess how things have changed over time. In such cases, you should include old sources.

How to write a literature review

How to write a literature review

Writing the lit review is an exciting and challenging process, wherein you have to find relevant publications (such as books and journal articles), critically analyze them, explain what you found. Five key steps are required for this process:

  1. Search for relevant literature
  2. Evaluate sources
  3. Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  4. Outline the structure
  5. Write your literature review

A good literature review is more than just a summary of facts; it must also analyze and critique the sources to paint an accurate picture.

Step 1: Search for relevant literature.

It would help if you had a clearly defined topic before looking for literature. This way, when you’re writing your Master’s or undergraduate dissertation or research paper and need to provide background knowledge on the subject with reliable sources, it will be easy!

You want to find good quality information that is trustworthy and credible, so you can rely on it while presenting an argument in your work without fear of being called out by someone who disagrees with what they see as insufficient evidence – this is why having a clear idea about where to look first saves time later down the line.

When you are writing a lit review as a standalone assignment, your main goal is determining which direction the project will take. You need to choose an area of research and develop a proper research question that can be answered by looking at previous publications without relying on new studies’ data.

Research question example

What is the impact of social media on body image among Generation Z?

Make a list of keywords.

Your search for the perfect research topic starts with finding keywords related to your subject. You can start by brainstorming a list of words and phrases that relate to both key concepts in the literature review, as well as any synonyms or alternate terms you might find during your readings.

Search for relevant sources

The internet is a vast and infinite space. This means that it’s crucial to know your keywords before starting any research paper project, especially when looking for academic sources. The following databases can be used as good places to start searching:

  • Inspec (physics, engineering, and computer science)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • JSTOR
  • EBSCO
  • Google Scholar
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Your university’s library catalog

Researchers in academia spend a great deal of time reading and analyzing articles. When selecting sources, it is important to find the most relevant information possible for your research topic. To do this, you should note any recurring citations, as these will typically be some excellent resources on the subject matter at hand. Then do a recap of the important information of the source.

Step 2: Evaluate and select sources

No matter how much you want to read about it, there are many written words on this topic. You’ll have to conduct an evaluation of the available literature most relevant for your questions and ones that will be easy to read or more in-depth than the others.

For each publication, ask:

  • How does the publication relate to another piece of literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • What are the key concepts, and how are they defined?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
  • What research questions or specific problem is the author addressing?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?

Step 3: Identify themes, debates, and gaps

To write an engaging literature review, you must understand the connections and relationships between sources. Use what you’ve learned to look for:

Gaps: What is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

Trends and patterns (in theory, method, or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?

Debates, conflicts, and contradictions: where do sources disagree?

Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?

Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?

Step 4: Outline your literature review’s structure

There are many ways that you can organize your literature review. It’s important to know the best method before starting, as this will help make a smoother and easier read for the reader- depending on how long it is. The different strategies each have their own purpose; combining them might not be necessary if one of these already suffices.

The strategies include chronological, thematic, methodological.

Step 5: Write your literature review

When it comes to a literature review, there are three main sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The contents of each depend on the objective of your report, but they all need to be included in one cohesive package.

Final thoughts on Writing a Literature Review

The truth is that it can be quite challenging to write a literature review.

But, with proper planning, understanding the structure, and having the correct outline, you will have an easier time.

The above guide will help you write a better literature review.

You can also sharpen your lit review writing skills by going through other research literature reviews; free samples are on our website.

Reading lit review examples will help you to understand better what the literature of your field requires.

If you need professional help formatting your literature review, contact us now.

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