Writing a literature review as part of your academic essay, research paper, dissertation, or thesis?
If so, it’s important to understand what this section of your report actually entails and why it’s so crucial to your research and writing.
A literature review will not only introduce you to some key concepts in your subject area, but it will also help you define the broader context of your study area, which in turn will help you narrow down exactly what it is that you want to study more closely.
Why do you need a literature review?
A literature review helps you establish your place within a scholarly conversation by establishing an understanding of the ideas and arguments that have come before you.
It will provide a framework for how to think about your own work, explaining what has been done in previous studies on similar topics, helping you refine your focus on particular aspects of the topic, establish key terms and phrases that are relevant to your study area, and assess competing theories on any given issue.
It will also show where gaps exist in existing scholarship and give you pointers on how to plug those gaps with your own study.
In short, the goals of a literature review are twofold: firstly, to frame your question; secondly, to identify what remains unanswered by other scholars.
In order to achieve these aims, you need to draw upon the resources available from both the academic and popular domains.
You can begin by reading articles from journals in your field of study, attending lectures at conferences in your discipline, checking out books from library shelves, perusing collections of academic papers online – anything that relates to your topic.
When you start compiling a list of references to include in your review, make sure that they’re published materials like journal articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, etc., not just websites (unless they offer peer-reviewed content).
Writing a Literature Review: Citing Sources
How to find academic sources for a literature review
Locating appropriate sources for your literature review might seem overwhelming at first glance, but there are plenty of ways to go about finding them.
Your university library is a great place to start since it offers access to databases that index thousands of journals in almost every field imaginable.
From there, you can search for specific keywords pertaining to your topic and limit the results according to criteria such as publication date or language.
For example, if you wanted to find articles about climate change published in English during the 1990s, you could type climate change into one database’s search box and set English as the primary language and 1990- as the publication date range.
You’ll be able to choose from a huge number of results based on different combinations of filters (e.g., 10 years ago vs. 20 years ago, written in English vs. French), and then decide whether you want to browse through abstracts, full-text PDF files, or download a citation list to compile manually later on.
Another approach would be looking up individual authors who have written influential texts on your chosen topic and see what they’ve published over the past few decades–this would be best suited for bigger projects with multiple authors.
You could use Google Scholar to locate published works by typing in the author’s name and the word pubs at the end of your query.
Finally, don’t forget to look beyond academic sources and consult popular magazines, newspapers, blogs, and even social media platforms for information on your topic.
What you’ll find will not always be factual, but it can serve as a valuable jumping-off point for your own research.
A good place to start is by doing a general web search on your topic, and then narrowing the results by entering your country of interest at the top of the page.
You may also want to add words like media or opinion in front of your topic, depending on what you’re after.
What type of Sources should you use for a Literature Review?
The following types of sources should be used in a literature review (unless otherwise directed) :
- Peer-reviewed journals
- Books, articles, or reports from other scholars
- Website sources with peer-reviewed content
- Primary sources such as interviews, surveys, and ethnographies.
- Archives or libraries containing historical documents.
Peer-reviewed sources are generally more reputable than other sources, and for this reason, are generally your best option.
If you do cite a website as a source, make sure that the site is reliable.
You can find the reliability of the site by looking at its URL (the www. in front of the address) and see if it ends in .edu or .gov.
These are official sites that usually give reliable information.
Websites ending in .com, .org, and other similar domains are less likely to give accurate and objective information.
Keep in mind, though, that the same is true for any type of source you select.
Ultimately, your ability to critically analyze and interpret information without relying on secondary sources comes down to your ability to form judgments.
How many sources should you cite?
The number of sources that you need to cite depends on the type of paper that you are writing.
In most cases, you should cite at least three sources.
However, for a literature review, you should cite at least five sources.
More sources can help strengthen your argument and provide you with a variety of perspectives.
Be sure to include citations for all the sources that you mention in your paper, as well as at the end of it.
It is important to correctly reference your sources so that you do not plagiarize someone else’s work. Plagiarism can result in penalties and disciplinary action, including expulsion.
To avoid this, cite your sources in APA, MLA, Havard, Chicago style or any other format specified by your teacher.
Writing the literature review
The actual writing process of a literature review varies greatly, depending on the writer and the project.
The most common way to write a literature review is to examine a particular topic in detail, and then synthesize the key points by identifying the similarities and differences across a wide range of scholarly sources.
This type of literature review often referred to as an expert or systematic review, can be used for large-scale academic investigations, where the researcher tries to create a comprehensive overview of the knowledge available on the subject.
Another approach is the traditional review of research studies; these reviews focus on what previous research has found about a specific topic, examining how different studies have come to the same or different conclusions about what might be happening.
Once you’ve read through the required reading, note your impressions and thoughts as they pertain to each text.
Use these notes to build a summary paragraph of what you learned.
Include both direct quotes from texts and paraphrased summaries in your paragraph.
Finally, review your sources again and identify which of them had the strongest influence on your ideas.
Write a conclusion paragraph summarizing the main points of your review.
Your conclusion should summarize the main points of your essay, and in doing so, highlight why your analysis is significant.
For example, you could say that across the various sources I have examined, there are several common threads or this article confirms my earlier hypothesis that.
You can also point out discrepancies in the information and explain why those points were left out. If you are using a broad, systematic review, you may want to include your own insights or hypotheses.
Here are simple steps to help you write a college literature review :
- Start by defining the review.
- Then think about what type of sources you’ll use.
- Decide on a thesis statement, and do your research.
- When you’re done, you can start to draft your literature review!
- Before you get started, make sure to check your formatting guidelines and citation requirements.
- And remember: when citing a source, be careful not to plagiarize.
- After completing your literature review, go back over it and edit thoroughly!
Writing a literature review for a dissertation
A dissertation is a more advanced project than a research paper or term paper and therefore will also have higher expectations in terms of sourcing.
You’ll need to back up your claims with sound academic evidence, as well as support your overall research aims.
A good literature review for a dissertation should have a strong introduction that establishes the relevance of the literature.
Next, you should provide a clear and concise review of your sources, ideally in chronological order.
Follow that by addressing the original research question or problem.
Summarize any primary findings in several paragraphs. In the conclusion, address any gaps in current research, such as theories that should be further investigated. Make sure to avoid regurgitating one side of a debate without weighing in on the other side.
One final important consideration is intellectual honesty. It’s okay if you don’t agree with all points made in a certain text–just don’t try to hide them or spin them.
Letting people know about opposing views strengthens your argument instead of undermining it.
For example, sometimes researchers argue that not enough research has been done on a topic.
That should be noted, but you can still maintain your stance on the issue in your conclusion.
Always remember that in writing a Literature review for a dissertation, the research must be referenced properly.
The conclusion should take a position on whether or not to study the topic in more depth.
You can also include a research question or problems for future studies.
Be careful not to copy directly from any sources; even paraphrasing them could result in accusations of plagiarism.
Finally, proofread carefully before submission.
Don’t forget to footnote your sources and cite them correctly using APA, MLA, or Chicago style depending on your school’s requirements.
Your audience may differ based on where you’re writing so make sure you pay attention to their needs.
How to Avoid writing a LITERATURE REVIEW Burnout
Writing a literature review often takes hours of reading and note-taking in order to create a thorough overview of the subject matter.
To save time, it’s usually best to group similar texts together into categories.
Once you’ve narrowed down which works are most useful, jot down notes while reading each text individually.
Still, burnout happens to the best of us.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep your interest piqued.
For example, you can try interspersing new or less familiar texts among the ones you’ve already read.
This way, you won’t be able to anticipate everything that comes next and you’ll stay on your toes. If that doesn’t work, try taking a break and coming back later.
Here are more tips to help you avoid burnout when writing a literature review :
- Look for patterns in the sources and develop a working hypothesis: This will help you avoid being overwhelmed with the amount of information you have to sift through. It will also give you a better understanding of the research question or problem and why it is relevant.
- Create your own table of contents and organize the sources according to your categories: This will make it easier to find sources that are related. You’ll also be able to see what topics haven’t been covered yet.
- Take notes as you read the sources: Taking notes will ensure that you don’t miss any important details and it will also serve as a rough outline for your paper.
- Develop a conclusion: Rather than trying to figure out your conclusion while writing, try developing it beforehand. This will make it easier to focus on the text itself rather than struggling with how to finish off your paper. Plus, if you happen to come across something that would be a great concluding sentence for your essay (or an idea for another topic), jot it down!
- Stay focused: Make sure that your discussion stays on topic and doesn’t stray onto another issue unless it’s absolutely necessary. Often burnout is the result of a person overextending themselves and trying to complete too many tasks at once. When this happens, it’s best to step away for a little bit and clear your head. Sometimes, it’s necessary to switch up the type of task you’re doing in order to get your creative juices flowing again.
- Keep a balance of difficult and easy texts: This will make it less likely that you are overloaded with complex texts and will be more productive. It’s also a good idea to alternate between sources that are heavy and those that are lighter. You can use the lighter texts to recharge your batteries, or you can use the heavy texts to provide a deeper analysis of the topic.
Mistakes In Writing a Literature Review That Makes You Look Dumb
There are some common mistakes that you should avoid while writing your literature review.
One of the most common mistakes is not reading the material you’re reviewing.
By not reading it, you can’t know how to critique it and what’s wrong with it.
You also won’t be able to make connections between your findings and those of other researchers, which means that your ideas will be nothing new.
Here are other mistakes that might cause you to look dumb in front of your classmates or professor:
#1: Presenting plagiarized material as your own
Plagiarism, or presenting someone else’s work as your own, is extremely unethical and unacceptable. Many websites and programs are available to check for plagiarism in written works. If you must use another writer’s words in your paper, make sure that you cite them properly so that no one will ever question where you got those thoughts from.
#2: Not providing enough background information about the authors and their work.
Background information provides your reader with a way to contextualize the arguments made by the author. For example, if you want to write about a study done by Smith, you need to tell your reader who Smith is and what he has studied before. This will help your reader decide whether they agree with his/her arguments or not.
#3: Referencing facts that cannot be found anywhere in the source materials.
Sources are meant to be used as a tool for helping you, not your entire paper. You can’t use a source in your paper just because it’s in the library and you could technically access it. You also can’t use sources that are only available online without making sure that you are citing them correctly.
#4: Making broad generalizations and not getting specific
People will take your paper less seriously if you make statements that are not backed up with evidence.
#5: Doing sloppy research and citing sources inaccurately
If you are going to spend the time and effort to do research, then make sure that you do it well. Don’t rely on google or Wikipedia to do all of your research for you. You also have to cite sources accurately, otherwise, it’s considered plagiarism.
#6: Claiming that a statement is true when you have not proven it.
These are called unsupported claims and they are not an acceptable form of argumentation.
#8: Being unclear with your introduction and thesis statement
Your introduction and thesis statement are the two most important parts of your paper. They summarize the whole thing, so make sure that you can express them in a sentence or two each!
#9: Putting too much detail into your conclusion and missing out on important details.
Remember that you don’t want to overwhelm your readers with a bunch of details at the end. Instead, you should give a short summary of your main points and highlight any unanswered questions that may still exist.
#10: Incorrectly organizing your paper in a haphazard manner.
You can either organize your paper in a traditional way, with sections and subsections, or you can organize it chronologically like a story. Either way, make sure that you follow that format consistently throughout the paper.
Writing a Literature Review Final Remarks
Literature reviews are defined as papers that offer critical analysis and interpretation of secondary data.
They generally serve to introduce, summarize, and critically analyze the current scholarly discourse on a particular research or essay topic.
The tips provided above are just the tip of the iceberg(pun intended !) but they are a good starting point for you to create a successful paper.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is to remember to have fun while doing it.