Tips for writing a literature review
What to consider before you start writing, and practical tips for when you do
Often when you author a research paper, you will need to write a literature review to position your own research within existing knowledge. Before we go into our tips for writing a literature review, make sure you understand what a literature review is.
A literature review is a piece of writing proving the author’s understanding of previously published research on a specific topic.
If a literature review is beautifully written, it meets the following two objectives.
Supply a concise overview of the current knowledge, theories, and methods on the topic. And present the potential gaps in the existing research.
Brings forward the author’s own critical evaluations and discussions on the topic.
Before you start writing your literature review
Now you understand what a literature review is, here are some things you should consider before you start the process of writing your literature review.
What is your topic?
Firstly, before you start searching for literature, you need to decide on a clearly defined topic.
If you are writing a literature review that is part of your research paper, you will need to relate this to your research objectives and questions.
Starting your literature search
You could approach your search for literature by making a list of keywords that relate to core concepts in your chosen field. As you begin your literature search, you may discover more terms to add to your list.
Using your keyword list, you can then start searching for your sources. It is important to use multiple sources when searching for literature, to avoid missing any key research.
Here are a couple of tips for when you start searching for literature:
When you are deciding whether an article is relevant to your literature review, read the abstract.
If it is a useful piece of literature for your review, check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
Selecting your literature
You won’t be able to review all the relevant literature, related to your literature review’s topic. You will need to assess which research is most relevant. Below are some things to consider whilst you narrow down on your chosen literature.
Have you read all the major research and theories related to your chosen topic? Be careful not to miss any.
Is the literature credible? You could find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar. The higher the citation count, the more influential the research has been in the subject field.
How does the literature relate to other literature in the subject field? Does it oppose established theories, or add to the current thinking? Think about the literature’s position within your chosen topic.
What is the scope of your review? The scope of your literature review needs to be defined so that it is manageable. You do not want the scope to be too large, or too small. If your chosen literature review topic is about a well-established subject, you might want to consider focusing on the recent advances – this will help keep the scope manageable.
Practical top tips
When you are collating your research articles, use multiple search engines and databases to make sure you do not miss any important ones.
Organization is key when it comes to your sources. Make sure you use referencing software from the start and be organized throughout the process of writing your literature review.
Planning your literature review
Before you start writing your literature review, you need to think about your strategy. Below are some of the approaches you could consider (you can combine multiple strategies in your literature review).
After deciding on your strategy, you should start collating the key points that you wish to cover in your literature review. Planning these will help you present a thought out, organized literature review.
Writing your literature review
Just like any other academic piece of writing, your literature review will have an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. Below we have outlined some advice you could follow when you are ready to begin your writing journey.
The introduction needs to clearly state your focus topic and purpose of your literature review. It should also be able to reach a large audience of non-specialists. To do this, make sure that the research you include in your introduction is broad. This will help increase your literature review’s impact.
The core body of your literature review should be made up of the key points that you want to cover. These key points will become sections, with each section covering a key point. You could use subheadings to present each of the sections.
Presenting your literature review in a thought out, organized way will allow the key trends to be identified by your readers. It will also help develop an engaging storyline to your literature review.
Remember that you need to give your own thoughts, interpretations and discussions in the main body of your literature review. This also includes pointing out any gaps in the literature – don’t be afraid to point out the weaknesses of your chosen sources.
This is where you should summarize your key findings from your literature review, and emphasize their significance. If your literature review is part of your research paper, make sure you reiterate how your research is contributing to the subject field. Or, you could discuss how you have drawn on existing research, theories and methods to build a strategy for your own research – this may lead on nicely to your methodology section.
Where to next?
If you’ve found these tips helpful, take a look at:
What is a literature review? – 8 key items to follow when you write your literature review.
Increase the impact of your literature review – understand how to promote your research and increase its impact.
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