Literature review is the type of writing every student will have to deal with at least once. You usually don’t have to do it while working with a smaller paper, but when writing a thesis or dissertation, literature review is a must. Not only do you need to shortly describe each source you use in a research, but you also need to analyze them. We’ve prepared this short guide for everyone wondering how to write a literature review.
This set of guidelines for writing a literature review is a concise summary of an extensive literature review description by Galvan. However, we’ve added some more tips from various resources to create the fullest guide that covers all the aspects of writing a literature review.
So here are 8 steps you need to go through
Step 1. Review APA Rules
Before you start writing anything, you need to be sure you remember the standards of the APA style. This means revising the font and margins requirements, how to organize the title page and cite the references properly. It’s a good idea to use an old paper as a template if you’re confident in its accuracy.
Step 2. Choose the Topic
The core part of the guidelines for writing a literature review is picking up the topic. It’s not a problem if your review is a part of a bigger project, but if it’s a separate paper, you need to invest some time into thinking what to write about. The best decision you can make in this case is choosing a topic related to your final project. Thus you’ll kill two birds with one stone – you’ll have a literature review and will be prepared for the big paper.
Step 3. Find the Literature
Obviously, the first step of the actual process of writing a literature review is finding the literature. Here you should use databases available online and in the libraries. Start with more general descriptions and narrow them down to find the sources that are suitable for your precise topic. Make sure you include the works that have laid the foundation of the field you’re working with, which means famous scientists and theorists.
Step 4. Analyze the Findings
This step will be the most extensive because you need to work with every source separately. First of all, you’ll need to divide the articles into different groups depending on the date when they were published, the background information and the stance they take on the discussed topic. This will help you to stay organized and find all necessary information faster.
Then start reading the articles. The first time you should just skim the text to find the main idea and the purpose of it. You don’t have to read the whole article, usually, this information will already be obvious from the introduction and few body paragraphs. You can choose to make notes on this step or not to do so.
However, when you read the articles for the second time, the note-taking is the key. Make sure to keep notes for different articles separated, ideally on different note cards. Begin with looking for such things: definitions of the key concepts, numbers and statistics, useful quotes, and their authors as well as exact pages where you found them (for future citing).
The most important thing you need to understand is that a literature review is not a description but your own evaluation of what you’ve read. So once you’re done with the key points, start analyzing the information. Where does the author put the emphasis? Does he or she sound convincing and provide enough arguments? What are the weak spots in the article? Answering these questions will already give you a pretty clear picture of what the article is all about.
Step 5. Make a Table
Summarizing everything in a form of a table will give you a visual and better grasp of all the sources. By doing so, you’ll be able to compare the findings, different points of view, approaches and missteps. You can do it for your own references or even include a polished table in your literature review later. Just remember to focus on definitions, methods used during the research and the results.
Step 6. Make an Outline
Once you have all the notes, you can already start giving your review some shape. Think about your purpose. You’re writing a literature review to show that you’ve got a sufficient grasp of the vital concepts in your field of study, can analyze the information critically and summarize it using your own wording. Start with giving the reader some introduction to the general subject and lead them to the actual review by the thesis statement. Once you’ve reached the body part, remember one thing – a literature review is an analysis of sources as a whole. That means you shouldn’t dedicate one paragraph to each article but rather intertwine them by highlighting differences and similarities.
Step 7. Write the Review
Every paper should point out its importance, and a literature review is not an exception. Distinguish the modern researches from the classic ones and keep the timeframe clear. Avoid writing “no studies have been found” because that’s something your professors will be tempted to argue with. Pay most attention to the articles that gave you the most materials but don’t forget to briefly mention the ones from which you’ve got only some information. Finally, avoid simply enumerating references without an actual analysis.
Step 8. Finish the Review
Literature review is not different from any other paper so you still need to proofread it in the end. Besides looking for typos and grammar mistakes, check if your text has smooth transitions from one point to another and a coherent flow. Those are the things that distinguish a literature review from a simple summary. It should have a short introduction, a body part divided into paragraphs and a conclusion. If you follow all these steps, your literature review will be exemplary.
Now you know how to write a literature review that will impress your professor.
Good luck with your writing assignments!