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Conducting a Literature Review

Before You Begin to Write.....

Do you have enough information? If you are not sure,

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Has my search been wide enough to insure I've found all the relevant material?
  • Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material?
  • Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper?

You may have enough information for your literature review when:

  • You've used multiple databases and other resources (web portals, repositories, etc.) to get a variety of perspectives on the research topic.
  • The same citations are showing up in a variety of databases.
  • Your advisor and other trusted experts say you have enough!

You have to stop somewhere and get on with the writing process!

Writing Tips

A literature review is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. It’s usually a bad sign to see every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question

If you are writing an annotated bibliography, you may need to summarize each item briefly, but should still follow through themes and concepts and do some critical assessment of material. Use an overall introduction and conclusion to state the scope of your coverage and to formulate the question, problem, or concept your chosen material illuminates. Usually you will have the option of grouping items into sections—this helps you indicate comparisons and relationships. You may be able to write a paragraph or so to introduce the focus of each section

Layout of Writing a Literature Review

Generally, the purpose of a review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.

Writing the introduction:

In the introduction, you should:

  • Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.
  • Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
  • Establish the writer’s reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).

Writing the body:

In the body, you should:

  • Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc.
  • Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance.
  • Provide the reader with strong “umbrella” sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, “signposts” throughout, and brief “so what” summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.

Writing the conclusion:

In the conclusion, you should:

  • Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.
  • Evaluate the current “state of the art” for the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.
  • Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.