How to Write a Literature Review - Guidelines 2023
Have you ever written a literature review before? What should be the structure of a review? If you have written a review before, you may know the procedure involved. If you haven't, don't worry; we will go through a step-by-step process.
So, what's a literature review?
A literature review is a paper or section of a paper that gathers relevant sources of information on a topic and discusses them in a conversation with each other. Therefore, from this definition, there are two types of literature reviews.
This guide will give you the steps of writing a literature review, the reasons for writing a literature review, the types of reviews, the organization of the document, and the tips to apply to write an effective document.
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1. Identify and Define Your Topic that You Want to Review
Define your topic or the research question for your readers to understand. Also, as the writer, you should know what you will discuss to write a coherent research summary.
It's best to write a description of the research question and area and even identify the keywords. Additionally, consider the relevant dates, geographies, methods, and conflicting points of view. The above criteria will help you to concentrate only on the relevant content to your research question.
Your topic should have the following features;
Be interesting to you so that it's easy to research and get content
Be an important aspect of the subject – this will make many readers like the review
A well-defined research problem
2. Conduct the Literature Research on the Topic
Conduct your research on the best databases that will contain relevant information. Focus on peer-reviewed articles, scholarly journals, and published books. Read through the titles and abstracts to choose the best and most related content.
As you search for these sources, use different keywords and tools. Some search tools include DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, and Web of Science.
There are several tips to apply in this step;
Keep track of all search materials
Be thorough in your search
Use a paper management system like Mendeley
Keep a list of the papers you can't access so that you can retrieve them later
Start an early inclusion and exclusion process based on the appropriate criteria
It's also best to find research papers and analyze their approach to the topic
Additionally, try to find an area or gap other previous reviews have missed.
3. Read Through the Sources and Take Notes
For the safety of your data, save your search results in a citation management tool like Zotero or EndNote. If doing your research in a library, you can always check with your librarian if your research is comprehensive.
After research confirmation, start reading and evaluating the content. Take notes of each search. Evaluate each article's strengths, weaknesses, biases, methodologies, and thoroughness. Finally, group the findings into two: those sources that support the reasons for doing your research and second the articles that answer the research queries.
4. Organize the Notes and Your ideas to Make a Review Outline
Outline your review by organizing the notes. A good practice is taking notes as you read through the materials. Note any interesting information, insights into organizing the review, and the thoughts that cross your mind on the research. When you finish reading, at least you will have a rough draft of the review, though it needs some rewriting and structuring.
You use any of the following patterns in creating a literature review outline depending on your research's goal;
Chronological–it's a simple way of tracing searches on your topic over time. This approach gives your audience the topic's development over time. Remember to analyze the key issues in the results, turning points, and the existing research's direction.
Thematic pattern –if your topic has a recurring main theme that you think is worth discussing, then you can use this pattern. Then, draft your literature review into subsections of the results and keep analyzing them.
Methodological - if your sources are from different disciplines with various research methods, follow this approach. You can compare the findings and their conclusions from different lines of thought. For instance;
Theoretical - this applies mainly in humanities, where you have to discuss various theories or models. Literature review in this field becomes the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can argue the relevance of a certain theory or combine various ideas.
NB: As you make notes, remember to use quotation marks verbatim.
5. Choose the Type of Literature Review you Wish to Write
There are two types of reviews, either a mini or full review. So, the type you choose will determine the content that you need. If you need a full review, this calls for detailed research and more word count.
Again, if doing a mini-review, your academic level determines the length of the paper. For instance, a dissertation review will be longer than an undergraduate research paper.
6. Write the Review, Edit, and Revise
The detailed step is now the writing process. Remember that the literature review is just a summary of the main research; thus, avoid including the details. However, from your prior research and the notes you made, you should have the critical results of the source.
Ensure your report flows and use the appropriate phrases to show transition and signal your discussion direction. Let your work be coherent and use specific research vocabulary. Remember, your work should be interesting to the reader and easy to understand.
After writing the first draft, read it carefully, and edit and revise as needed. Repeat this process as required to ensure you submit error-free work. If possible, find someone to proofread your work before submission. Then, again, always pass it through the plagiarism check tool.
Always apply the review and writing tips discussed in other articles like research papers, narrative essays, expository essays, etc.
7. Incorporate Your Literature Review into the Research Paper
After you polish your review, it's time to incorporate it into the paper. However, this is an optional step depending on the type of review that you have. If you remember, in the introduction, we said you a review is a full paper or a section: full-length, stand-alone review) or review of a paper.
So, if your review is a paper section, you should merge it into the main paper, like a thesis or dissertation. If it's a full paper, it should be complete with an introduction, body, and conclusion.
8. Include the References /Works Cited
When writing the review, you rely on other peoples' work and ideas; thus, always acknowledge them. While writing, remember to create a comprehensive list of citations and follow the appropriate style like Chicago and others.
Best Tips for Writing Effective Literature Reviews
To ensure you write a presentable and convincing literature review apply these tips;
Synthesis of the results - means drawing connections between sources and creating a scholarly conversation on the topic. Expound on the trends, gaps in studies, strengths, and weaknesses. From these sources, focus on the common findings, important trends, and influential theories. Make sure you identify these features as you read and take notes; it will be easy when you start writing.
Avoid overquoting – if you fill your review with quotes, it won't be an original analysis. Also, you present yourself as a poor researcher without creativity. Therefore, use quotes judiciously when highlighting a theory or thought on the topic.
It's best to paraphrase - use your word to reiterate the main ideas of an author or when highlighting a section. But, as you paraphrase, remember to present the author's ideas accurately and reference their work.
Summarize the results – concisely summarize the main findings for your audience to understand the studies.
Always consider your audience – are you engaging with the general audience or specialists in the subject? If dealing with general readers, avoid jargon in the topic; instead, focus on plain English.
Use evidence – similar to the other research papers, reviews interpretation should have a backup from relevant sources. Always site the materials accordingly.
Be selective–choose an article's important concepts that relate directly to your research query.
Keep your voice - Even if you are quoting another author's work, use your ideas at the front and end of a paragraph. If you keep starting and ending with other people's work, it will look like you are just listing the sources. So, start and end a paragraph with your ideas in your own words.
Clarity - ensure that your content will educate the audience and reason together with other scholars through clear writing. Ensure you mind the audience, and in case you use jargon, its best to define them
Cogency - let your article follow some logic in the discussion. Your discussion should present assumptions, give evidence, and conclude the argument. So, ensure that each paragraph has its argument following the above structure. The argument should be the topical sentence, pieces of evidence, then the conclusion. This logical structure brings out the flow of ideas.
Conventionality - follow the unique structure of the writing guidelines in your referencing styles like the Chicago or American Phycological Associations (APA).
Completeness - your argument should have a detailed explanation that communicates even to your critic. Leave no room for doubts but let the content be self-sustaining and self-validating.
Concision–pass the information to your readers while following all the set guidelines, including word limit. Ensure you avoid repetition or use of unnecessary phrases (fluff).
We have given you detailed steps and tips to apply when writing a literature review. Always read through the instructions first and understand which kind of review you need. Then, start your research as early as possible to have sufficient time to synthesize your content. There is no harm in asking for clarification when you feel lost.