A literature review refers to a survey of everything that is written on a particular topic, theory, or research question. It covers a broad range of scholarly sources from books and academic journals to dissertations and the proceedings of various conferences, seminars, and workshops. Its objective is to present a comprehensive recap of the current knowledge on the given subject.
Many students make the mistake of confusing literature reviews with summaries. Whilst both include a description of the publication and a brief overview of its major arguments, they are not the same thing. Unlike a summary, a review requires certain critical engagement. The point is to analyze, synthesize, interpret, and assess gathered materials to identify gaps in the existing research, and not simply list the ideas expressed by other scholars.
When Are Literature Reviews Used?
A literature review is an essential part of any coursework. You may be given the assignment to survey a collection of sources on the specific topic, in which a review will be the sole intent. It can also be used more holistically and provide the context for other research papers, like a dissertation or thesis.
A review enables you to place your work within the existing discourse. Its purpose is to give you a clear picture of the previous discussion in the chosen field. An elaborate survey of various scholarly sources testifies to your familiarity and understanding of the academic conversation on that particular topic. It also demonstrates how the arguments you intend to provide can contribute to the development of the stated research area. Another function of a literature review is to point out the general direction of your further studies and create a theoretical framework for your research.
How to Write a Literature Review?
With so many features, writing the literature review might seem to be a rather daunting task. However, if you break it down into several specific assignments, it will be easier to handle this job. Here is a step-by-step guide to creating a winning literature review:
Step 1: Identify Relevant Literature
Before you begin searching for literature, you need to define your field of research and then gradually narrow your focus. For example, if you plan to conduct research on the civil rights movement, you can address this issue from the outlook of its implication on the American culture, and from there, you can take it to African-American literature and then limit your scope to the oeuvre of the renowned African-American writers.
Once you’ve formulated your main research question, note the key concepts you’re interested in and create a list of the keywords related to your topic. That will be the roadmap for your literature search. You can get the ball rolling by running your keywords through the educational databases or go treasure hunting at your college library and education blogs. Some of the greatest info platforms for college students are Google Scholar, JSTOR, ERIC, Web of Science, and ProQuest.
Step 2: Take a Critical Look at Your Sources
With the whopping amount of information produced every day, there is no chance you can check every piece of custom writing that is related to your area of investigation. That’s why you have to decide what studies you want to focus on in your review. The common factors that determine the selection criteria are date range, type of publication, geographical location, peer review, study design, methodology, and reported outcome.
Once you’ve filtered out your literature collection, scan each document you consider using to get a sense of their general content. Then go over the text again, but this time noting the answers to the following questions:
- What research area is the author working with?
- What is the text’s thesis? Which evidence is used to back up the key points?
- How does the source material relate to other literary works on the same topic?
- What conclusions does the author come to? Do they confirm, contribute, or argue the generally-accepted viewpoint?
- Does the piece contribute to your overall comprehension of the topic?
This kind of inquiry will help you to evaluate your sources and pick up only those that comply with your goal or set the proper background for your research.
Step 3: Develop a Coherent Review
Once you have distilled the pertinent literature list, it’s time to move to the writing stage. There are three processes here: outlining, drafting, and editing.
The planning part begins with defining the scope of your work. That implies you need to scribe all the points you want to cover in your paper, collate them according to the themes and patterns you’ve detected, and develop headings and subheadings so that you know what goes under each section.
At this point, you also have to decide how you are going to present the data you’ve collected. You can lay out your review thematically, chronologically, theoretically, and methodologically, or mix up several of these strategies.
Like any other academic paper, a literature review follows a three-component structure. It comprises an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Each section should link logically to the one before and after.
When you are ready with your first draft, leave it alone for a few days, and then go through the text with fresh eyes. Now you are entering the final stage — “review, rewrite, repeat.” Your aim is to get a clear and concise paper free from plagiarism and grammatical or spelling errors.
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