In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions. Why do we write literature reviews? Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone.
For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.
Who writes these things, anyway? Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself. What should I do before writing the literature review? Clarify If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor: Roughly how many sources should you include? What types of sources books, journal articles, websites?
Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue? Should you evaluate your sources? Find models Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review.
Narrow your topic There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Consider whether your sources are current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies.
Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.
Discussion: This section usually interprets the study data based on their weighted significance and the power of the results. The study therefore provides strengthened results that are validated by the scientific rigor of the analytical method. Before starting to write a review, it is important to determine what kind of review you want to write and follow the appropriate style and guidelines.
An effective literature review is important for the complete life cycle of a research from defining the right research goals to correctly interpreting and presenting the research results. What are some of the ways of organizing the sources when writing a literature review for a research paper?
Writing a literature review requires you to read through and collate several research articles and literature sources. This can get very confusing considering the large amount of publications that need to be organized. There is no set way to do this as it will depend on your preference for reading printed articles or online resources.
If you are old school and read printed articles better, then you should create a folder with all articles organized in this way: 1. Alphabetically with the last name of the first author, or 2.
Chronologically with the date of publication, or 3. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work.
Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words.
Common Mistakes to Avoid These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature. Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem; You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevent sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem; Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data; Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis; Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review; Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and, Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.
Cook, Kathleen E. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review.
Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra. Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue?
However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature. Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. New York: Oxford University Press, While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating.
Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask: How are they organizing their ideas? What methods have they used to study the problem?
What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem? What sources have they cited to support their conclusions? How have they used non-textual elements [e.
When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem. Hart, Chris. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review . The topic must at least be: interesting to you ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary , an important aspect of the field so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it , and a well-defined issue otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful.
Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered  , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic e. To be useful, literature reviews must be written in a professional way with a clear structure. Designing and Writing a Scientific Literature Review Writing a scientific review implies both researching for relevant academic content and writing, however, writing without having a clear objective is a common mistake.
Therefore, we suggest that you divide your path into three steps. Define goals and a structure Think about your target and narrow down your topic.
Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. This can get very confusing considering the large amount of publications that need to be organized. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences. A literature review should begin with a thorough literature search using the main keywords in relevant online databases such as Google Scholar , PubMed , etc.
The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. University of Canberra. Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject? Here are examples of other sections you may need to include depending on the type of review you write: Current Situation: information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review. Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy.
Ideally, separate themes should be discussed in a chronological manner to describe how research in the field has evolved over time and to highlight the progress in the field. To be useful, literature reviews must be written in a professional way with a clear structure. However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review. Summarizing and actually penning down the gist of your review in an organized manner: this is known as theoretical review. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.
Anson, Chris M. Literature Reviews What this handout is about This handout will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.