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"How to" Guideline series is coordinated by Helen Mongan-Rallis of the Education Department at the

University of Minnesota Duluth. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions to improve these
guidelines please me at e-mail hrallis@d.umn.edu.

Guidelines for writing a literature review


by Helen Mongan-Rallis. Last updated: November 21, 2014
[Note: For these guidelines, in some sections I have quoted directly some of the the steps
from: Galvan, J. (2006). Writing literature reviews: a guide for students of the behavioral
sciences (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.]

What is a literature review?


A literature review is not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize briefly each
article that you have reviewed. While a summary of the what you have read is contained
within the literature review, it goes well beyond merely summarizing professional literature.
It focuses on a specific topic of interest to you and includes a critical analysis of the
relationship among different works, and relating this research to your work. It may be written
as a stand-alone paper or to provide a theoretical framework and rationale for a research
study (such as a thesis or dissertation).

Step-by-step guide
These guidelines are adapted primarily from Galvan (2006). Galvan outlines a very clear,
step-by-step approach that is very useful to use as you write your review. I have integrated
some other tips within this guide, particularly in suggesting different technology tools that
you might want to consider in helping you organize your review. In the sections from Step 69 what I have included is the outline of those steps exactly as described by Galvan. I also
provide links at the end of this guide to resources that you should use in order to search the
literature and as you write your review.
In addition to using the step-by-step guide that I have provided below, I also recommend that
you (a) locate examples of literature reviews in your field of study and skim over these to get
a feel for what a literature review is and how these are written (I have also provided links to a
couple of examples at the end of these guidelines (b) read over other guides to writing
literature reviews so that you see different perspectives and approaches: Some examples are:
1. Review of Literature: University of Wisconsin - Madison The Writing Center.
2. How to ..Write a Literature Review: University of California, Santa Cruz University
Library).
3. Information Fluency - Literature Review: Washington & Lee University

4. How to Do A Literature Review? North Carolina A&T State University F.D. Bluford
Library.
5. Selected Links to Resources on Writing a Literature Review

Step 1: Review APA guidelines


Read through the links provided below on APA guidelines so that you become familiar with
the common core elements of how to write in APA style: in particular, pay attention to general
document guidelines (e.g. font, margins, spacing), title page, abstract, body, text citations,
quotations.

Step 2: Decide on a topic


It will help you considerably if your topic for your literature review is the one on which you
intend to do your final M.Ed. project, or is in some way related to the topic of your final
project. However, you may pick any scholarly topic.

Step 3: Identify the literature that you will review:


1. Familiarize yourself with online databases (see UMD library resource links below for
help with this), identifying relevant databases in your field of study.
2. Using relevant databases, search for literature sources using Google Scholar and also
searching using Furl (search all sources, including the Furl accounts of other Furl
members). Some tips for identifying suitable literature and narrowing your search :
1. Start with a general descriptor from the database thesaurus or one that you
know is already a well defined descriptor based on past work that you have
done in this field. You will need to experiment with different searches, such as
limiting your search to descriptors that appear only in the document titles, or
in both the document title and in the abstract.
2. Redefine your topic if needed: as you search you will quickly find out if the
topic that you are reviewing is too broad. Try to narrow it to a specific area of
interest within the broad area that you have chosen (remember: this is merely
an introductory literature review for Educ 7001). It is a good idea, as part of
your literature search, to look for existing literature reviews that have already
been written on this topic.
3. As part of your search, be sure to identify landmark or classic studies and
theorists as these provide you with a framework/context for your study.
3. Import your references into your RefWorks account (see: Refworks Import Directions
for guide on how to do this from different databases). You can also enter references
manually into RefWorks if you need to.

Step 4: Analyze the literature


Once you have identified and located the articles for your review, you need to analyze them
and organize them before you begin writing:
1. Overview the articles: Skim the articles to get an idea of the general purpose and
content of the article (focus your reading here on the abstract, introduction and first
few paragraphs, the conclusion of each article. Tip: as you skim the articles, you may
want to record the notes that you take on each directly into RefWorks in the box for
User 1. You can take notes onto note cards or into a word processing document
instead or as well as using RefWorks, but having your notes in RefWorks makes it
easy to organize your notes later.
2. Group the articles into categories (e.g. into topics and subtopics and
chronologically within each subtopic). Once again, it's useful to enter this information
into your RefWorks record. You can record the topics in the same box as before (User
1) or use User 2 box for the topic(s) under which you have chosen to place this article.
3. Take notes:
1. Decide on the format in which you will take notes as you read the articles (as
mentioned above, you can do this in RefWorks. You can also do this using a
Word Processor, or a concept mapping program like Inspiration (free 30 trial
download), a data base program (e.g. Access or File Maker Pro), in an Excel
spreadsheet, or the "old-fashioned" way of using note cards. Be consistent in
how you record notes.
2. Define key terms: look for differences in the way keys terms are defined (note
these differences).
3. Note key statistics that you may want to use in the introduction to your review.
4. Select useful quotes that you may want to include in your review. Important: If
you copy the exact words from an article, be sure to cite the page number as
you will need this should you decide to use the quote when you write your
review (as direct quotes must always be accompanied by page references). To
ensure that you have quoted accurately (and to save time in note taking), if
you are accessing the article in a format that allows this, you can copy and
paste using your computer "edit --> copy --> paste" functions. Note: although
you may collect a large number of quotes during the note taking phase of your
review, when you write the review, use quotes very sparingly. The rule I
follow is to quote only when when some key meaning would be lost in
translation if I were to paraphrase the original author's words, or if using the
original words adds special emphasis to a point that I am making.
5. Note emphases, strengths & weaknesses: Since different research studies focus
on different aspects of the issue being studied, each article that you read will
have different emphases, strengths. and weaknesses. Your role as a reviewer is
to evaluate what you read, so that your review is not a mere description of
different articles, but rather a critical analysis that makes sense of the

collection of articles that you are reviewing. Critique the research


methodologies used in the studies, and distinguish between assertions (the
author's opinion) and actual research findings (derived from empirical
evidence).
6. Identify major trends or patterns: As you read a range of articles on your topic,
you should make note of trends and patterns over time as reported in the
literature. This step requires you to synthesize and make sense of what you
read, since these patterns and trends may not be spelled out in the literature,
but rather become apparent to you as you review the big picture that has
emerged over time. Your analysis can make generalizations across a majority
of studies, but should also note inconsistencies across studies and over time.
7. Identify gaps in the literature, and reflect on why these might exist (based on
the understandings that you have gained by reading literature in this field of
study). These gaps will be important for you to address as you plan and write
your review.
8. Identify relationships among studies: note relationships among studies, such as
which studies were landmark ones that led to subsequent studies in the same
area. You may also note that studies fall into different categories (categories
that you see emerging or ones that are already discussed in the literature).
When you write your review, you should address these relationships and
different categories and discuss relevant studies using this as a framework.
9. Keep your review focused on your topic: make sure that the articles you find
are relevant and directly related to your topic. As you take notes, record which
specific aspects of the article you are reading are relevant to your topic (as you
read you will come up with key descriptors that you can record in your notes
that will help you organize your findings when you come to write up your
review). If you are using an electronic form of note taking, you might note
these descriptors in a separate field (e.g. in RefWorks, put these under User 2
or User 3; in Excel have a separate column for each descriptor; if you use
Inspiration, you might attach a separate note for key descriptors.
10. Evaluate your references for currency and coverage: Although you can always
find more articles on your topic, you have to decide at what point you are
finished with collecting new resources so that you can focus on writing up
your findings. However, before you begin writing, you must evaluate your
reference list to ensure that it is up to date and has reported the most current
work. Typically a review will cover the last five years, but should also refer to
any landmark studies prior to this time if they have significance in shaping the
direction of the field. If you include studies prior to the past five years that are
not landmark studies, you should defend why you have chosen these rather
than more current ones.

Step 5: Summarize the literature in table or concept map format


1. Galvan (2006) recommends building tables as a key way to help you overview,
organize, and summarize your findings, and suggests that including one or more of

the tables that you create may be helpful in your literature review. If you do include
tables as part of your review each must be accompanied by an analysis that
summarizes, interprets and synthesizes the literature that you have charted in the
table. You can plan your table or do the entire summary chart of your literature using a
concept map (such as using Inspiration)
1. You can create the table using the table feature within Microsoft Word, or can
create it initially in Excel and then copy and paste/import the the Excel sheet
into Word once you have completed the table in Excel. The advantage of using
Excel is that it enables you to sort your findings according to a variety of
factors (e.g. sort by date, and then by author; sort by methodology and then
date)
2. Examples of tables that may be relevant to your review:
1. Definitions of key terms and concepts.
2. Research methods
3. Summary of research results

Step 6: Synthesize the literature prior to writing your review


Using the notes that you have taken and summary tables, develop an outline of your final
review. The following are the key steps as outlined by Galvan (2006: 71-79)
1. Consider your purpose and voice before beginning to write. In the case of this Educ
7001 introductory literature review, your initial purpose is to provide an overview of
the topic that is of interest to you, demonstrating your understanding of key works and
concepts within your chosen area of focus. You are also developing skills in reviewing
and writing, to provide a foundation on which you will build in subsequent courses
within your M.Ed. and ultimately in your final project. In your final project your
literature review should demonstrate your command of your field of study and/or
establishing context for a study that you have done.
2. Consider how you reassemble your notes: plan how you will organize your findings
into a unique analysis of the picture that you have captured in your notes. Important:
A literature review is not series of annotations (like an annotated bibliography).
Galvan (2006:72) captures the difference between an annotated bibliography and a
literature review very well: "...in essence, like describing trees when you really should
be describing a forest. In the case of a literature review, you are really creating a new
forest, which you will build by using the trees you found in the literature you read."
3. Create a topic outline that traces your argument: first explain to the reader your line or
argument (or thesis); then your narrative that follows should explain and justify your
line of argument. You may find the program Inspiration useful in mapping out your
argument (and once you have created this in a concept map form, Inspiration enables
you to convert this to a text outline merely by clicking on the "outline" button). This
can then be exported into a Microsoft Word document.

4. Reorganize your notes according to the path of your argument


5. Within each topic heading, note differences among studies.
6. Within each topic heading, look for obvious gaps or areas needing more research.
7. Plan to describe relevant theories.
8. Plan to discuss how individual studies relate to and advance theory
9. Plan to summarize periodically and, again near the end of the review
10. Plan to present conclusions and implications
11. Plan to suggest specific directions for future research near the end of the review
12. Flesh out your outline with details from your analysis

Step 7: Writing the review (Galvan, 2006: 81-90)


1. Identify the broad problem area, but avoid global statements
2. Early in the review, indicate why the topic being reviewed is important
3. Distinguish between research finding and other sources of information
4. Indicate why certain studies are important
5. If you are commenting on the timeliness of a topic, be specific in describing the time
frame
6. If citing a classic or landmark study, identify it as such
7. If a landmark study was replicated, mention that and indicate the results of the
replication
8. Discuss other literature reviews on your topic
9. Refer the reader to other reviews on issues that you will not be discussing in details
10. Justify comments such as, "no studies were found."
11. Avoid long lists of nonspecific references
12. If the results of previous studies are inconsistent or widely varying, cite them
separately
13. Cite all relevant references in the review section of thesis, dissertation, or journal
article

Step 8: Developing a coherent essay (Galvan, 2006: 91-96)


1. If your review is long, provide an overview near the beginning of the review
2. Near the beginning of a review, state explicitly what will and will not be covered
3. Specify your point of view early in the review: this serves as the thesis statement of
the review.
4. Aim for a clear and cohesive essay that integrates the key details of the literature and
communicates your point of view (a literature is not a series of annotated articles).
5. Use subheadings, especially in long reviews
6. Use transitions to help trace your argument
7. If your topic teaches across disciplines, consider reviewing studies from each
discipline separately
8. Write a conclusion for the end of the review: Provide closure so that the path of the
argument ends with a conclusion of some kind. How you end the review, however,
will depend on your reason for writing it. If the review was written to stand alone, as
is the case of a term paper or a review article for publication, the conclusion needs to
make clear how the material in the body of the review has supported the assertion or
proposition presented in the introduction. On the other hand, a review in a thesis,
dissertation, or journal article presenting original research usually leads to the
research questions that will be addressed.
9. Check the flow of your argument for coherence.

Reference:
Galvan, J. (2006). Writing literature reviews: a guide for students of the behavioral sciences (
3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.

Resources
1. UMD & library resources and links:
1. UMD library research tools: includes links to
2. Refworks Import Directions: Links to step-by-step directions on how to
important to Refworks from different databases
2. Writing guidelines:

1. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab): A user-friendly writing lab that parallels
with the 5th edition APA manual.
3. APA guidelines:
1. APA Style Essentials: overview of common core of elements of APA style.
2. APA Research Style Crib Sheet is a summary of rules for using APA style.
3. APA Style for Electronic Media and URL's: commonly asked questions
regarding how to cite electronic media
4. Examples of literature reviews:
1. Johnson, B. & Reeves, B. (2005). Challenges. Literature review chapter from
unpublished master's thesis, University of Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota.
2. Maguire, L. (2005). Literature review faculty participation in online
distance education: barriers and motivators. Online Journal of Distance
Learning Administration, Volume 8, No. 1, Spring 2005. State University of
West Georgia, Distance Education Center.

Learn how to write a review of literature.

What is a review of literature?

Writing the introduction

Writing the body

Writing the conclusion

What is a review of literature?

The format of a review of literature may vary from discipline to discipline and from
assignment to assignment.
A review may be a self-contained unit -- an end in itself -- or a preface to and rationale for
engaging in primary research. A review is a required part of grant and research proposals and
often a chapter in theses and dissertations.
Generally, the purpose of a review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of
knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies,
reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.

Writing the introduction

In the introduction, you should:

Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus


providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.

Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or
conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in
research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of
immediate interest.

Establish the writer's reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature;
explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and
the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state
why certain literature is or is not included (scope).

Writing the body

In the body, you should:

Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical


articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as
qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific
purpose or objective, chronology, etc.

Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as


each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature,
remembering that space (length) denotes significance.

Provide the reader with strong "umbrella" sentences at beginnings of


paragraphs, "signposts" throughout, and brief "so what" summary
sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding
comparisons and analyses.

Writing the conclusion

In the conclusion, you should:

Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the


body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the
introduction.

Evaluate the current "state of the art" for the body of knowledge reviewed,
pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research,
inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to
future study.

Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the


central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a
discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.

For further information see our handouts on Writing a Critical Review of a Nonfiction Book
or Article or Reading a Book to Review It.
To learn more about literature reviews, take a look at our workshop on Writing Literature
Reviews of Published Research.
Write a Literature Review

1. Introduction
Not to be confused with a book review, a literature review surveys scholarly articles, books
and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue,
area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each
work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.
2. Components
Similar to primary research, development of the literature review requires four stages:

Problem formulationwhich topic or field is being examined and what are its
component issues?

Literature searchfinding materials relevant to the subject being explored

Data evaluationdetermining which literature makes a significant contribution to the


understanding of the topic

Analysis and interpretationdiscussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent


literature

Literature reviews should comprise the following elements:

An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the
objectives of the literature review

Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular
position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)

Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others

Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most
convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding
and development of their area of research

In assessing each piece, consideration should be given to:

ProvenanceWhat are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported
by evidence (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent
scientific findings)?

ObjectivityIs the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data


considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?

PersuasivenessWhich of the author's theses are most/least convincing?

ValueAre the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work
ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

3. Definition and Use/Purpose


A literature review may constitute an essential chapter of a thesis or dissertation, or may be a
self-contained review of writings on a subject. In either case, its purpose is to:

Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject
under review

Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration

Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research

Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies

Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort

Point the way forward for further research

Place one's original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of
existing literature

The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.

Write a Literature Review: Examples and Further Information


An annotated example of a literature review may be found at:
http://faculty.mwsu.edu/psychology/Laura.Spiller/Experimental/sample_apa_style
_litreview.pdf

A published, peer-reviewed literature review from the JSTOR database may be found at the
link below:
Allen, R.C. (1996). Socioeconomic Conditions and Property Crime: A
Comprehensive Review and Test of the Professional Literature.
The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 55, 293.

Further information on the literature review may be found in:


Cooper, H. (2010). Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis: A Step-By-Step Approach.
Los Angeles: Sage.
(McHenry Stacks H62 C5859)
Machi, L.A. (2009). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success.
Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
(McHenry Stacks LB1047.3 M33)
Deakin University. (2009). Literature Review.
Geelong, Victoria, Australia: Author.
Retrieved 29th July 2014 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.deakin.edu.au/library/findout/research/litrev.php
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center. (2009). The Writer's Handbook: Learn
How to Write a Review of Literature.
Madison, Wisconsin: Author.
Retrieved 29th July 2014 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/ReviewofLiterature.html

Information Fluency - Literature Review


Literature Review

In preparing a literature review, you will need to conduct extensive research on your topic
using a number of sources (use the links at the left). First, you may want to know a few
things:

What is a Literature Review?

Why do a Literature Review?

How do you write a Literature Review?

How do you begin looking for sources?

What is a Literature Review?


For those new to academic research, the literature review is one of the least understood parts
of a research project. A literature review is a summary of previous research on a topic.
Literature reviews can be either a part of a larger report of a research project, or it can be a
bibliographic essay that is published separately in a scholarly journal. Either way, the purpose
is the same, to review the scholarly literature relevant to the topic you are studying. This
review will help you design your methodology and help others to interpret your research.
Some questions you may think about as you develop your literature review:

What is known about the subject?

Are there any gaps in the knowledge of the subject?

Have areas of further study been identified by other researchers that you
may want to consider?

Who are the significant research personalities in this area?

Is there consensus about the topic?

What aspects have generated significant debate on the topic?

What methods or problems were identified by others studying in the field


and how might they impact your research?

What is the most productive methodology for your research based on the
literature you have reviewed?

What is the current status of research in this area?

What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to


you?

If the literature review is part of a Ph.D. dissertation, this review will be comprehensive
covering all research on the topic. As part of your research report, you will want to cover the
major work that has been done on the topic recently, but it is not necessary to try to identify
all research on the subject.
Why do a Literature Review?
The purpose of a literature review is to help you explain how the question to be investigated
fits into the larger picture and why you have approached the topic the way you have. This
section of a scholarly report allows the reader to be brought up to date regarding the state of
research in the field and familiarizes him or her to any contrasting perspectives and
viewpoints on the topic.
How do you write a Literature Review?
Summarize and explain what research has been done on the topic, citing the sources as you
mention them. Point out the different ways researchers have treated the topic. Point out any
connections between the sources especially where one source built upon prior study. Explain
how this past work fits together to make your research question significant. Your literature
review should present your synthesis of previous research and lay the foundation for
understanding your research and appreciating its value. See the links in the border to the left
for information about finding appropriate sources for your literature review

What is a "Literature Review" anyway?

What is a literature review?


A literature is a "review" of "the literature" on a topic. What does that mean?

In this case, "Review" usually means an overview summarizing major


parts and bringing them together to build a picture of what's out there.
Different fields of study (and different professors) will have different
standards on whether a review is supposed to be more of a
straightforward summary or if it is supposed to have a deep analysis and
discussion.

"The Literature" means the major writings - especially scholarly writings


- on the topic. Depending on your field "the literature" can include all sorts
of things: journal articles, books, published essays, government reports,
and so on. The main thing is that "the literature" is the body of scholarly,
professional information that is used by professionals and scholars working
on that topic area

So a literature review is a summary of previous research on a topic.


Literature reviews can be a subsection of something bigger or can stand alone:

As a subsection, literature reviews are usually put in early in the larger


work. They tend to be after the Introduction but before the Methods
section or any in-depth discussion and analysis of the issue. They may be
incorporated into a Background section, or can come just before or after
the Background. Examples of literature reviews as a sub-section include:
o

A component in a larger research project or paper

A chapter in a thesis or dissertation

A mandatory section if you want to write and publish a scholarly


journal article

The analysis of existing research performed before a research


proposal

A component in the background or justification when applying for


grant money

Or it can be a stand-alone bibliographic essay:


o

A literature review assigned for class on its own, to understand and


write up current research on a topic

An analytical essay synthesizing an annotated bibliography into a


formal paper

A "review article" that you write to publish in a scholarly journal

You may have already written a "research paper" that was really a literature review! Many
"library research" assignments are actually simplified literature reviews. So you've probably
done one before and you shouldn't be intimidated!
Literature reviews are different depending what their purpose is. If the literature review is
part of a Ph.D. dissertation, this review will be comprehensive covering all research on the
topic. But if the review is part of a smaller research report, you need to cover the major work
that has been done on the topic recently, but it is not necessary to try to identify all research
on the subject.
Continue to: Understand the review | Start the review | Develop the review | Organize the
review

What is the purpose of a Literature Review?


The purpose of a literature review is to convey to the reader what knowledge and ideas have
been established on a topic and what are the strengths and weaknesses. The literature review
allows the reader to be brought up to date regarding the state of research in the field and
familiarizes the reader with any contrasting perspectives and viewpoints on the topic. There
are good reasons for beginning a literature review before starting a research paper. These
reasons include:

To see what has and has not been investigated.

To develop general explanation for observed variations in a behavior or phenomenon.

To identify potential relationships between concepts and to identify researchable


hypotheses.

To learn how others have defined and measured key concepts.

To identify data sources that other researches have used.

To develop alternative research projects.

To discover how a research project is related to the work of others.

How to Start
You usually start your literature review with a literature search. That means, use tools to look
through what's been written and find the information on your topic.

How to do a literature search?

1. Developing a search strategy


o Defining the topic - In order to begin your literature review you must first
define your research question. What is the purpose? What does it mean?
What are the key words? Are there other words which could be used, such as
synonyms, variations in spelling? What do you already know about the topic?
What is the scope? Do you need everything ever written in English on this
topic, or just the last ten years?
o Before beginning a search for information, it is important to develop a search
strategy that will most effectively locate useful, relevant information. This
will often involve breaking down an essay or research question into:
1. Compiling a list of keywords or key phrases. Analyzing the topic of an
essay question or research topic usually involves making a list of
keywords or phrases. You will need to include all the key concepts or
ideas contained within the essay or research question. It might be
useful to include alternative ways of phrasing and expressing concepts
and ideas. Think about both general terms and very specific terms for
broadening and narrowing your search. The keyword or phrase is the
basic unit of any search. You may find it helpful to consult subject
dictionaries and encyclopedias, or a textbook glossary for the common
terminology of the subject area. The use of an index and/or thesaurus
is also advisable to establish the useful terms.
2. Entering your search into appropriate search tools. There are hundreds
of research tools at the Bluford Library, and al ibrarian can suggest a
list of ones to try for your topic. Then,
3. Evaluating your results to determine whether you need to employ
various strategies to broaden, narrow or otherwise modify your
research.
2. Identifying Resources - Information is available in a number of formats. It is
important for you to understand the significance of various formats so that you know
what will best suit your information requirements. When you know what types of
resources you are interested in you can revisit the search tools or find more. What
type of resources are most approprtiate for your needs?
o Books
o Reference Materials
o Journals
o Conference Papers
o Dissertations

o Internet

Consider this...
Some questions to think about as you develop your literature review:

What is known about the subject?

Are there any gaps in the knowledge of the subject?

Have areas of further study been identified by other researchers that you
may want to consider?

Who are the significant research personalities in this area?

Is there consensus about the topic?

What aspects have generated significant debate on the topic?

What methods or problems were identified by others studying in the field


and how might they impact your research?

What is the most productive methodology for your research based on the
literature you have reviewed?

What is the current status of research in this area?

What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to


you?

Organization and Outline

Choose an organization
Once you have some articles that look good, read the abstracts to get an idea of what they say.
You may want to skim over the best ones, especially if they have good literature reviews
themselves. That will give you an idea how literature reviews are written on this topic!
Now, think about how the ideas in the articles you have might be organized. One of the
purposes of the literature review is to provide an overview and synthesis of information;
grouping similar articles gives you a framework for your overview.
It is usually wise to move from broad to narrow. Provide your reader with the most general
information first, then building toward the specifics of your research concerns.

There are many different approaches to how to organize your literature review, depending on
what the literature looks like. Think about what the articles you have are talking about. Do
they group themselves naturally to you? Some examples of ways to organize a literature
review include:
CHRONOLOGICAL: This is a common approach, especially for topics that have been
talked about for a long time and have changed over their history. Organize it in stages of how
the topic has changed: the first definitions of it, then major time periods of change as
researchers talked about it, then how it is thought about today.
COMPARISON TO PRESENT HYPOTHESIS: If your literature review is part of an
empirical article or meta-analysis, where you intend to present a hypothesis and come to a
conclusion, you can organize the literature review to show the articles that share or support
your hypothesis, and those that disagree with it. This gives a chance to show the strengths of
the supporting research, discuss any validity/methodology issues with past research that
disagrees with your findings, and explain how the past research leads up to and supports
yours.
BROAD-TO-SPECIFIC: Another approach is to start with a section on the general type of
issue you're reviewing, then narrow down to increasingly specific issues in the literature until
you reach the articles that are most specifically similar to your research question, thesis
statement, hypothesis, or proposal. This can be a good way to introduce a lot of background
and related facets of your topic when there is not much directly on your topic but you are
tying together many related, broader articles.
MAJOR MODELS or MAJOR THEORIES: When there are multiple models or prominent
theories, it is a good idea to outline the theories or models that are applied the most in your
articles. That way you can group the articles you read by the theoretical framework that each
prefers, to get a good overview of the prominent approaches to your concept.

PROMINENT AUTHORS: If a certain researcher started a field, and there are several
famous people who developed it more, a good approach can be grouping the famous
author/researchers and what each is known to have said about the topic. You can then
organize other authors into groups by which famous authors' ideas they are following. With
this organization it can help to look at the citations your articles list in them, to see if there is
one author that appears over and over.
CONTRASTING SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT: If you find a dominant argument comes up
in your research, with researchers taking two sides and talking about how the other is wrong,
you may want to group your literature review by those schools of thought and contrast the
differences in their approaches and ideas.
PROBLEM->SOLUTION:This approach groups quotations from articles first that introduce
and describe the problem or problems being addressed in your research. Then group articles
by types of solutions that are proposed in the articles.
PROCESS FLOW:If your literature review centers around part of a process, you may want
to describe the stages in that process and group your citations by different stages or steps in
that process. Remember, a single article may have several quotes from different sections,
each going with a different part of the process! That way you can use many articles'
descriptions of your process, or compare and contrast different approaches to it.

There are many other ways to organize a literature review, and you can also combine
organization methods. In a doctoral dissertation your literature review may have multiple
subsections to discuss several of the points listed above. Feel free to organize it in any way
that seems logical to you! If it works for the literature - and your writing style - then go ahead
and use it.

Make an Outline
Once you choose an organization (or organizations) make an outline. You don't
have to be controlled by your outline but it can be a good way to organize your
ideas, articles, quotations, and references.
Pick the major sub-parts of your outline, based on your organization. For example,
if you're organizing chronologically, label the major time periods that mark
changes in the history of your topic. Make notes from what you saw in the
abstracts about which articles might go into which parts of your outline.
Now, as you start reading your articles, whenever you come across a really good
quote you can mark it with which part of the outline it goes in. Make a note of the
author, year, and page number whenever you run across something in your reading

that explains, supports, or falls logically into a subsection in your review outline! It
can be a simple chart, such as:

textbook chapter 2
Smith, 1962, p 36, 40-42,
47
1960s Origins

Brown, 1963, p 132


Smith, 1964, p. 1-10
Jones, 2001, p 216
textbook chapter 4

1970s-80s Doe & Grey, 1982, p 100-

115
textbook chapters 5&6
90s-early
00s

Jones, 2001, p 310-330


Grey, 1999, p28
textbook chapters 8-11
Smith, 2003, p80-82

modern

Jones, 2008, p1
Scott, 2010, p99
Williamson, 2010, p36-37

It doesn't have to be a table; organize it however you want. Just label your sections
and start taking notes of good quotes and/or relevant page numbers, as you read.

Selected Links to Resources on Writing a Literature Review

University of Toronto:
http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/litrev.html
A very detailed guide on how to write a literature review. Includes a nice set of questions to
ask yourself about how well you've conducted your literature review. It also includes a very
detailed set of questions to ask yourself about each article. This second part is more intended
for thesis writers than for an in-class type of literature review. In other words, it's more than
you really need.

University of Washington: Writing a Psychology Literature Review


http://depts.washington.edu/psywc/handouts/pdf/litrev.pdf
In Adobe Acrobat format. A step by step guide for how to begin and conduct a literature
review. While it's written for Psychology, most of what it talks about is relevant for Applied
Linguistics as well. It has a very nice section on how to cite and create a bibliography using
APA.
Deakin Library - Australia
http://www.deakin.edu.au/library/findout/research/litrev.php
This site has a nice set of reasons for doing a literature review. You're sure to find your
'reason' here and this will help you frame/format your literature review.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/ReviewofLiterature.html
A nice overview of the parts of a review of the literature and what should be contained within
them.
University of Toronto: Using Internet Resources
http://www.erin.utoronto.ca/~w3lib/pub/evaluate/webevalu.htm
A good guide for how to use general internet resources in your work, including a nice bit on
how to evaluate the validity of the sources.
Edith Cowan University (Australia)
http://www.ecu.edu.au/centres/library-services/workshops-and-training/referencing/relatedcontent/downloads/ECU-Referencing-Guide-2014-July-update.pdf
Quick and easy APA references. In Acrobat Format.

How to... write a literature review

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/authors/guides/write/literature.htm

Article Sections
1. What is a literature review?
2. Stages of a literature review
3. Organizing a literature review
4. Further information and examples
What is a literature review?
Some definitions

A literature review is a description of the literature relevant to a particular field or topic. It


gives an overview of what has been said, who the key writers are, what are the prevailing
theories and hypotheses, what questions are being asked, and what methods and
methodologies are appropriate and useful. As such, it is not in itself primary research, but
rather it reports on other findings.
Here is one definition of a literature review:
"... a literature review uses as its database reports of primary or original scholarship, and does
not report new primary scholarship itself. The primary reports used in the literature may be
verbal, but in the vast majority of cases reports are written documents. The types of
scholarship may be empirical, theoretical, critical/analytic, or methodological in nature.
Second a literature review seeks to describe, summarise, evaluate, clarify and/or integrate the
content of primary reports."
Cooper, H. M. (1988), "The structure of knowledge synthesis",
Knowledge in Society, Vol. 1, pp. 104-126
A literature review may be purely descriptive, as in an annotated bibliography, or it may
provide a critical assessment of the literature in a particular field, stating where the
weaknesses and gaps are, contrasting the views of particular authors, or raising questions.
Such a review will not just be a summary but will also evaluate and show relationships
between different material, so that key themes emerge. Even a descriptive review however
should not just list and paraphrase, but should add comment and bring out themes and trends.

Some basic do's and don'ts

A literature review should never be just a list, as in the example below:


"Until recently many researchers have shown interest in the field of coastal erosion and the
resulting beach profiles. They have carried out numerous laboratory experiments and field
observations to illuminate the darkness of this field. Their findings and suggestions are
reviewed here.
JACHOWSKI (1964) developed a model investigation conducted on the interlocking precast
concrete block seawall. After a result of a survey of damages caused by the severe storm at
the coast of USA, a new and especially shaped concrete block was developed for use in shore
protection. This block was designed to be used in a revetment type seawall that would be both
durable and economical as well as reduce wave run-up and overtopping, and scour at its base
or toe. It was proved that effective shore protection could be designed utilizing these units.
HOM-MA and HORIKAWA (1964) studied waves forces acting on the seawall which was
located inside the surf zone. On the basis of the experimental results conducted to measure
waves forces against a vertical wall, the authors proposed an empirical formula of wave
pressure distribution on a seawall. The computed results obtained by using the above formula
were compared well with the field data of wave pressure on a vertical wall.
SELEZOV and ZHELEZNYAK (1965) conducted experiments on scour of sea bottom in
front of harbor seawalls, basing on the theoretical investigation of solitary wave interaction
with a vertical wall using Boussinesque type equation. It showed that the numerical results
were in reasonable agreement with laboratory experimental data."
This example first appeared on the website of the
Language Center, Asian Institute of Technology.
All this extract does is to write a potted summary of the views of three sets of authors; there
is no attempt to look at the relationships between the views, or draw out themes.
By contrast, the following extract from a paper quoted in full (see Further information and
examples section) does just that:
"In developed countries, a large part of the literature concerned with income-related aspects
of disability has tended to focus on the quantitative impact of disability on educational
achievement, earnings and income, and on the adequacy and equity of income maintenance
schemes and other programmes. The costs and benefits of rehabilitation and vocational
employment schemes and employment discrimination have also been recurrent themes. Much
of the current popular literature has been to do with removing barriers of all kinds in order to
increase the participation of disabled people in the employment market."

What is a literature review as an Emerald article category?

It is a paper the main purpose of which is to annotate and/or critique the literature in a
particular subject area. It can either be:

a selective bibliography providing advice on information sources;

comprehensive, covering the main contributors to the field with an


exploration of their views.

On what other occasion is a literature review relevant?

A literature review will generally be part of a thesis or dissertation, forming an early contextsetting chapter. It may also form a useful background where you are outlining a piece of
research, or putting forward a hypothesis.

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The stages of a literature review
Define the problem

It is important to define the problem or area which you wish to address. Having a purpose for
your literature review will narrow the scope of what you need to look out for when you read.
Carry out a search for relevant materials

Relevant materials will probably comprise a range of media:

books (monographs, text books, reference books);

articles from journals, whether print or electronic (but make sure electronic
journals have been subject to the peer review process);

newspaper articles;

historical records;

commercial reports and statistical information;

government reports and statistical information;

theses and dissertations;

other types of information which may be relevant to your particular


discipline.

Much the best place to start the search is your own university library if you are attached to a
university. If you are not, find the nearest academic library with a good collection in your

subject area. Most academic libraries have well qualified and helpful staff who will be more
than happy to help you. Start by looking at their OPAC (online public access catalogue)
which is a database of their resources.
You could also refer to other relevant library catalogues, such as the British Library
catalogue, the National Union Catalogue (Library of Congress), and, through their URLs,
other large academic libraries.
Most libraries will also have indexes of periodicals, e.g. Business Periodicals Index, and
abstracting services, e.g. Dissertation Abstracts.
Keywords are a good search strategy, and here it is better to use specific rather than general
keywords and phrases.
The Internet via search engines, metasearch engines, subject gateways and directories has
become a hugely popular place to search, but there are also huge pitfalls. The following
websites provide useful advice on searching the Internet:

Resource Discovery Network (a series of free tutorials)

University of Berkeley Library

If you are fairly new to research, you could do well to acquaint yourself with the pitfalls of
evaluating material on the Internet. The following web resources are particularly helpful:

University of Berkeley Library

Deakin University Library

The last site has good advice on how to do library research; obviously a lot is geared to their
own collection but much is also fairly general, particularly that which relates to searching on
the Internet.
Evaluate the materials

Here are some points to consider when evaluating material (please note that this is not an
exhaustive list).
Initial appraisal from raw bibliographical data:

What are the author's credentials, are they an expert in the field? Are they
affiliated to a reputable organization?

What is the date of publication, is it sufficiently current or will knowledge


have moved on?

If a book, is it the latest edition?

Is the publisher a reputable, scholarly publisher?

If it is a journal, is it a scholarly journal which has been peer reviewed?

Appraisal based on content analysis:

Is the writer addressing a scholarly audience?

Does the author review the relevant literature?

Does the author write from an objective viewpoint, and are their views
based on facts rather than opinions?

If the author uses research, is the design sound?

Is it primary or secondary material?

Does the author have a particular theoretical viewpoint, e.g. feminist?

What is the relationship of this work to other material you have read on
the same topic, does it substantiate it or add a different perspective?

Is the author's argument logically organized and clear to follow?

If the author is writing from a practice-based perspective, what are the


implications for practice?

The following website provides good pointers as to how to evaluate material:

Cornell University Library


(including distinguishing scholarly and non-scholarly publications).

Analyse the findings

What themes emerge and what conclusions can be drawn? What are the major similarities
and differences between the various writers? Are there any significant questions which
emerge and which could form a basis for further investigation?
You are now at the stage when you can write up your literature review.

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How to organize a literature review

There are a number of ways of organizing a literature review. Here is one suggestion:

1. Introduction: define the topic, together with your reason for selecting the
topic. You could also point out overal trends, gaps, particular themes that
emerge, etc., as in the previous Cooper (1988) quote.
2. Body: this is where you discuss your sources. Here are some ways in
which you could organize your discussion:
o

chronologically: for example, if writers' views have tended to


change over time. There is little point in doing the review by order
of publication unless this shows a clear trend;

thematically: take particular themes in the literature, for example in


the literature review of poverty and disability cited in the next
section, the author takes the themes of the prevalence and
structure of disability, education, employment, income and poverty,
causes of disability, the path from poverty to disability and vice
versa, and finally, policies for disabled people;

methodologically: here, the focus is on the methods of the


researcher, for example, qualitative versus quantitative approaches.

3. Conclusion: summarize the major contributions, evaluating the current


position, and pointing out flaws in methodology, gaps in the research,
contradictions, and areas for further study.

The following websites provide some useful ideas about organization and structure:

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of North Carolina

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Further information and examples
Further information

The following universities have good information on how to write a literature review, which
is naturally mostly aimed at students, but the principles are still the same:

Deakin University
Aimed mainly at research students. Has some particularly good links to
other parts of the site, for example how to critically analyse information
sources: www.deakin.edu.au/library/research/information/evaluate-

information.php, and the extensive Deakin University Library research


skills site: www.deakin.edu.au/library/research/index.php.

University of Wisconsin-Madison
Provides a useful structure for how to write the literature review.

University of North Carolina


Despite its somewhat flippant beginning, has some useful points, and
provides some suggestions as to structure.

University of California, Santa Cruz


(Follow links to "literature review".)
Some useful bullet points, including advice on how to assess pieces, as
well as on the purpose of a literature review.

Some examples of literature reviews

The best way of improving skills in writing literature reviews is by looking at other
examples:

Surviving and thriving in academia: a selective bibliography for new


faculty members
(Deborah Lee, Reference Services Review, vol. 31 no. 1)
This is much more in the nature of being a descriptive bibliography but
note how the author groups her material according to themes, with
descriptive opening paragraphs.

Trends and evolution in the development of grey literature: a review


(Daniela Luizi, International Journal of Grey Literature, vol. 1 no. 3)
Example of a literature review which takes a chronological approach.

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Learn how to write a review of literature.
http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/ReviewofLiterature.html

What is a review of literature?

Writing the introduction

Writing the body

Writing the conclusion

What is a review of literature?

The format of a review of literature may vary from discipline to discipline and from
assignment to assignment.
A review may be a self-contained unit -- an end in itself -- or a preface to and rationale for
engaging in primary research. A review is a required part of grant and research proposals and
often a chapter in theses and dissertations.
Generally, the purpose of a review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of
knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies,
reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.
Writing the introduction

In the introduction, you should:

Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus


providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.

Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or
conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in
research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of
immediate interest.

Establish the writer's reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature;
explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and
the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state
why certain literature is or is not included (scope).

Writing the body

In the body, you should:

Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical


articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as
qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific
purpose or objective, chronology, etc.

Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as


each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature,
remembering that space (length) denotes significance.

Provide the reader with strong "umbrella" sentences at beginnings of


paragraphs, "signposts" throughout, and brief "so what" summary
sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding
comparisons and analyses.

Writing the conclusion

In the conclusion, you should:

Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the


body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the
introduction.

Evaluate the current "state of the art" for the body of knowledge reviewed,
pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research,
inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to
future study.

Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the


central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a
discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.

For further information see our handouts on Writing a Critical Review of a Nonfiction Book
or Article or Reading a Book to Review It.
To learn more about literature reviews, take a look at our workshop on Writing Literature
Reviews of Published Research.

Literature Reviews

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/specific-writingassignments/literature-reviews
Contents
1. What this handout is about
2. Introduction
1. What is a literature review, then?
2. But how is a literature review different from an academic
research paper?
3. Why do we write literature reviews?
4. Who writes these things, anyway?
3. Let's get to it! What should I do before writing the literature review?
1. Clarify
2. Find models
3. Narrow your topic
4. Consider whether your sources are current

4. Strategies for writing the literature review


1. Find a focus
2. Construct a working thesis statement
3. Consider organization
5. Begin composing
1. Use evidence
2. Be selective
3. Use quotes sparingly
4. Summarize and synthesize
5. Keep your own voice
6. Use caution when paraphrasing
6. Revise, revise, revise
7. Works consulted
What this handout is about

This handout will explain what a literature review is and offer insights into the form and
construction of a literature review in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
Introduction

OK. You've got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel and a book of poetry, settle
down in your chair, and get ready to issue a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" as you leaf
through the pages. "Literature review" done. Right?
Wrong! The "literature" of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic,
not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. "Literature" could be anything from a set
of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the
treatment of a torn ACL. And a review does not necessarily mean that your reader wants you
to give your personal opinion on whether or not you liked these sources.
What is a literature review, then?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and


sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.
A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an
organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of

the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling,


of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with
old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major
debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and
advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
But how is a literature review different from an academic research
paper?

The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research
paper will contain a literature review as one of its parts. 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. Literature reviews also provide a solid background
for a research paper's investigation. 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.
Let's get to it! 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?

Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such


as definitions and/or a history?

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. You can simply put the word "review" in your search engine along
with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic
database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read are also
excellent entry points into your own research.
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. Your instructor will probably not expect you to
read everything that's out there on the topic, but you'll make your job easier if you first limit
your scope.
And don't forget to tap into your professor's (or other professors') knowledge in the field. Ask
your professor questions such as: "If you had to read only one book from the 70's on topic X,
what would it be?" Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most
seminal pieces in the field.
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.
Strategies for writing the literature review
Find a focus

A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources
themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not
just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As
you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues
connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect
of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it
according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick
one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.

Construct a working thesis statement

Then use the focus you've found to construct a thesis statement. Yes! Literature reviews have
thesis statements as well! However, your thesis statement will not necessarily argue for a
position or an opinion; rather it will argue for a particular perspective on the material. Some
sample thesis statements for literature reviews are as follows:
The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine.
More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of
academic consideration.
See our handout for more information on how to construct thesis statements.
Consider organization

You've got a focus, and you've narrowed it down to a thesis statement. Now what is the most
effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics,
etc., that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop
an organization for your review at both a global and local level:

First, cover the basic categories


Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least
three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the
body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a
conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.
Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as
the central theme or organizational pattern.
Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either
chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more
information on each).
Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing
literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?
Organizing the body
Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you
will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an
organizational method to focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your


review, consider the following scenario and then three typical ways of
organizing the sources into a review:
You've decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm
whales. This is because you've just finished reading Moby Dick, and you
wonder if that whale's portrayal is really real. You start with some articles
about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the
1980's. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on
whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a
book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been
portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting,
or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do.
This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time
portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the
last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling
scene in his novel.
Chronological
If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the
materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you
would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about
Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art
(1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on
American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity
among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm
whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are
about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review
loses its chronological focus.
By publication
Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the
order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you
could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm
whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection
practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the
studies.
By trend
A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is
to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history

of whaling. Then your review would have subsections


according to eras within this period. For instance, the review
might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and
1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent
studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby
Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors
wrote a century apart.
Thematic
Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather
than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an
important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review
could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the
study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized
chronologically. The only difference here between a "chronological" and a
"thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the
harpoon or the harpoon technology.
But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological
order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might
examine how they are portrayed as "evil" in cultural documents. The
subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are
exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this
manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the
point made.
Methodological
A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing
factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it
focuses on the "methods" of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale
project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences
between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or
the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A
methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the
review or the way in which these documents are discussed.
Once you've decided on the organizational method for the body of the review,
the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out.
They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a
chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A
thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the
theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are
necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the
body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only
what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:
Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of
the literature review.
History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea
that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the
literature review is not already a chronology.
Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your
literature review or the way in which you present your information. For
instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed
articles and journals.
Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review
sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
Begin composing

Once you've settled on a general pattern of organization, you're ready to write each section.
There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a
sample paragraph from a literature review about sexism and language to illuminate the
following discussion:
However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are
more likely to produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990).
Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to
fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as "writer,"
"pedestrian," and "persons." The students were asked to describe any image
they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3
men to each woman in the masculine "generic" condition and 1.5 men per
woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for
some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source:
Erika Falk and Jordan Mills, "Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The
Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense," Women and
Language19:2.
Use evidence

In the example above, the writers refer to several other sources when making their point. A
literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your
interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what
you are saying is valid.

Be selective

Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of
information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review's focus, whether it is
thematic, methodological, or chronological.
Use quotes sparingly

Falk and Mills do not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature
review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short
quotes here and there are okay, though, if you want to emphasize a point, or if what the
author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk and Mills do quote
certain terms that were coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from
the study. But if you find yourself wanting to put in more quotes, check with your instructor.
Summarize and synthesize

Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as
throughout the review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton's study,
but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to their own work.
Keep your own voice

While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice (the writer's) should remain
front and center. Notice that Falk and Mills weave references to other sources into their own
text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with their
own ideas and their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.
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. In the preceding example, Falk
and Mills either directly refer in the text to the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or
they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own,
for example, Gastil's. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism.

Revise, revise, revise

Draft in hand? Now you're ready to revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea,
because your main objective is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your
review again to make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you
would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your
review so that you've presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be
sure to use terminology familiar to your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang.
Finally, double check that you've documented your sources and formatted the review

appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising and editing process, see our handout
on revising drafts.
Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing the original version of this handout. This is not a
comprehensive list of resources on the handout's topic, and we encourage you to do your own
research to find the latest publications on this topic. Please do not use this list as a model for
the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For
guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial.
Anson, Chris M. and Robert A. Schwegler, The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers.
Second edition. New York: Longman, 2000.
Jones, Robert, Patrick Bizzaro, and Cynthia Selfe. The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing in
the Disciplines. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997.
Lamb, Sandra E. How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You'll Ever Write.
Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1998.
Rosen, Leonard J. and Laurence Behrens. The Allyn and Bacon Handbook. Fourth edition.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.
Troyka, Lynn Quitman. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers. Upper Saddle River, N.J.:
Prentice Hall, 2002.