How to Write a Literature Review: Step By Step Guide
A literature review provides the current and complete state of knowledge on a given topic as published in academic journals and books. Scholars usually write literature reviews on topics with limited information.
Basically, it is a summary of the references to a given topic. However, you are required to synthesize the sources you choose.
For instance, a student might be asked to provide a new interpretation of old sources or to provide an interpretation that combines old and new references.
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 literature 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.
A literature review provides a useful guide towards a certain topic that has limited sources.
Therefore, it comes in handy when you do not have enough time to conduct thorough research.
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 reviews
Look at other literature reviews in our field or course. Going through such reviews will give you a clearer idea of how to write your review. Furthermore, these previous reviews in your field will have references that will be a good place to start your research.
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 so you can reduce the material you have to go through.
Consider the date of your sources
Let’s say you are composing a literature review about the treatment of a certain medical condition.
Medical procedures change regularly to accommodate current studies.
So, when writing a review you need updated sources as references that are even a year old could be out-of-date.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 a review in social sciences, the review might require you to assess how things have changed over time. In such cases, old sources should be included.
Literature Review Writing Tactics
The following are some tactics of writing a review:
Focus on an idea
A good literature review focuses on an idea. That is to say, you need to read and understand your sources, and then find a central idea that connects them.
For instance, you could focus on:
- How well your sources present a given topic
- A trend your sources reveal
- Something that is missing from all your sources
Have a thesis statement
The typical literature review does not have a thesis statement.
However, it is advisable to tell the reader the idea, concept, or principle, behind the compilation of the review. In other words, try and inform a reader what they should expect.
The following are two samples of excerpts from reviews:
- The contemporary treatment for kidney failure is a combination of medicine and surgery.
- Should social media be considered in courses in the field of society and culture?
Pick an organizational format for your sources
This is a question of how you will present your review. What topics or subheadings will you include and how will you arrange them?
A literature review has three basic sections:
- Body (the section that lists and discusses different sources)
- Recommendations or conclusion
Before writing the body of the review, you need to consider how you will organize the sources. The following are the methods you can use to organize your sources:
- Chronological – in a chronological organization, you arrange your sources according to their date of publication. In a literature review, you start with the earliest source and end with the latest source.
- Trend or theme – you can identify a trend or theme in your topic and organize your sources according to it. For instance, let’s say your review’s topic is cervical cancer treatment. You could use a thematic organization to organize your sources for types of cervical cancer. Therefore, you will have a section of sources covering squamous cell carcinomas and another on adenocarcinomas.
- Methodological – this approach focuses on the methods of the writers not the content of the sources. The method of the writer affects how they discuss a topic. For instance, when looking at women’s rights, you could focus on the cultural differences in the perception of women’s rights in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and America. Writers from these different regions will discuss women’s rights differently due to cultural bias.
Once you pick an organizational structure, it will be easy to deduce the segments you need to include in the body of your literature review.
At times your study requires additional information that you cannot incorporate in the organizational approach you picked. Such segments include:
- History: this segment explains the chronological progression of the field or the sources included in the review. It can also explain something that is necessary to understand the review. This segment is mostly included if the organizational approach is not chronological.
- Methods or standards: include this statement t explain the criterion you used to choose sources for your review. For example, you could use this subheading to explain to your readers that your review only includes only peer-reviewed journals.
- Questions for further research: if your review sparks questions or a need for further research, include this segment.
- Current situation: This section includes information that a reader requires to understand the idea behind your review.
The Dos And Don’ts Of Literature Review Writing
At this point you have decided on a focus for your review, you have your sources, and you have decided on an organizational structure and the additional segments to include. The next step is to start writing your review.
When writing your review, consider the following guidelines.
The Dos of literature review writing
- Back up your content with evidence
Whatever you are writing in your literature review has to be legitimate. Therefore, like any other academic paper, the content of your literature review has to be backed up with evidence. That is especially true when making a point or elucidating an argument in your introduction.
2. Include only important points
From your sources, you can deduce very many points. But, you only need to include the points that are relevant to the focus of your review.
3. Summarize and synthesize your sources
Take the important points from a source and summarize them. Then, include information on how the texts change your thinking and its significance to your research. The point is to connect your sources to the focus of your review.
4. Limit the use of direct quotes
A literature review looks into several sources. Therefore, it does not accommodate the detailed discussion of quotes from a single source. So, it makes more sense to rephrase what the writer said, rather than including a direct quote.
5. Be careful when paraphrasing
Often, you will have to paraphrase. But, when rewording, your final phrase should represent the writer’s idea accurately. To have an easy time when paraphrasing, in your text, refer to the writer of the source.
After finishing your work, go through it. Check that:
- You have followed all the instructions from your lecturer
- You have used language that is easy for your readers to understand
- There are no grammar and typing errors
- Your sources are documented
- There is no jargon and fluff
- Your sentences and ideas flow smoothly
The Don’ts of literature review writing
When writing your literature review, don’t:
- Include sources whose research are based on assumptions and disregard or contradict the findings of your review.
- Leave out a segment explaining the search criteria used in picking your sources.
- Write isolated research that is not based on the focus of your review
How To Format A Literature Review
A literature review is a type of writing that examines published literature within a given topic.
As such, a literature review will require you to read and analyze different sources.
After that, you are required to present your understanding of the literature.
In essence, you are supposed to summarize different sources and write your synthesis.
Also, you are required to present the information in a specific order, and follow a specific format when presenting the assignment.
In this article, you will find useful information on how to format a literature review.
Structure and Format A Literature Review
Like most academic papers, a literature review should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
But the content of these sections is different in literature reviews.
The introduction of a literature review should clearly indicate the main organizing principle.
The first thing you need to do is to introduce the general topic (for example, reproductive rights of women).
Then, inform the reader the main criterion used to select the sources, which in the case of the example above could be chronological history.
Finalize the introduction by linking the main organizing principle to your sources.
The body of a literature review provides a summary and synthesis of each source.
But, first, you have to choose a method to organize your sources.
There are three main ways of organizing sources in a literature review:
- Chronologically: organizing sources chronologically means maintaining the right historical timeline.
Therefore, if you choose this organizing principle, you start with the earliest source and end with the latest source.
- Methodologically: this organizing principle focuses on the methods used by the authors to present critical concepts. For instance, one way to methodologically organize sources on women reproductive rights is to look at the ways cultural bias affects the way authors depict the exercising of women’s rights.
- Thematically: this refers to organizing sources in terms of a theme, trend, topic, or theoretical concepts you deem necessary to understand a given topic. Let’s say you are looking at sources in the topic of cervical cancer treatments, you could thematically organize the sources according to the type of treatments they cover, i.e., radiation and non-radiation treatments.
The conclusion should provide a summary of your findings.
In a literature review, you should relate your findings to the real world.
In other words, try to make your reader understand why your literature review was important.
It is also advisable to leave your readers with something to think about by ending with a rhetorical question or posing questions for further research.
Format a Literature review in APA
The instructions given by the instructor will help you determine the format and outline to use.
So before you start writing seek clarity on:
- The review format to be utilized in citations
- The number and types of sources to include
- The expected length
- The headings, subheadings, and any other background information to include
In most cases, you will present your literature review in the APA format.
If that’s the case, consider the following rules:
- Insert a page header, and type the page number aligned right, and the literature review title in caps left-aligned.
Note that, the title of the review should be shortened to 50 characters or less (including spaces and punctuation).
Also, the header of the first page should have the phrase ‘running head’.
2. In the title page, type the title of the review, the name of the student, and institutional affiliation.
This information should be center-aligned and should appear in the middle of the page.
The review title on the title page should not exceed 12 words.
3. Type the paper in Time New Roman font, and font size 12.
The whole document should have double-spaces paragraphs.
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 review writing skills by going through other reviews; there are free samples on our website.
Reading review examples will help you to better understand what the literature of your field requires.
If you need professional help formatting your literature review contact us now.