Writing a literature review might be complicated as it presupposes analysis and synthesis of the various sources, some of which may contradict with each other. Still, a literature review is extremely widespread in the academic practice: you might have seen lots of those in the scientific articles, and your professors would probably ask you to write something similar during the course. How not to mess up with all this information? There are a few simple advices which should explain how to write a literature review.
What is a literature review?
A literature review is a type of writing which analyzes the currently available knowledge on a specific topic or subject. For this reason, it utilizes the various studies (and sometimes other sources as well) which focus on the chosen topic or mention it in any important way. The goal of the literature review is to show what is already known about the subject so that it could be seen what your research adds to it.
What sources should be chosen for a literature review?
I would recommend sticking to the scholarly sources — the so-called peer-reviewed articles. This term means that the research was done by the proficient person in the field and checked by his or her colleagues to ensure the high quality and adherence to the academic standards. The peer-reviewed articles are the most trustworthy sources, so try to use as many of those as possible in your literature review.
Depending on the topic, though, you might also want to use other sources. For instance, if you write a humanities paper, you might not find enough (or any) peer-reviewed sources on your topic. In such a case, you can use the primary source (the piece of literature you are going to analyze) and the secondary sources (the critiques or historical studies on it). If you have chosen the modern artifacts to research, other unusual sources (such as comics books) may also be utilized. The main idea is that you should use a lot of credible and relevant references to summarize all the available knowledge on the topic.
So, how to write a literature review?
A literature review cannot simply come out of your head as it presupposes synthesizing a lot of literature. And I mean, really A LOT! So you may probably spend more time on preparations than on actually writing. The good news is that once you have collected and analyzed all the available literature, you will definitely know what to write about. Let’s go ahead and check the significant steps of writing a literature review.
Step 1. Look for the available literature
Go to your institution library, check the google scholar, google books, and available databases. Open tons of tabs with articles, books, and websites that may contain the necessary information.
Step 2. Choose the most appropriate sources
Remember that credibility if everything: you might want to prefer a scholar article to the post blog even though the latter is much simpler and more enjoyable. Credibility means that the author is an expert in the field, the article is published in an accepted scholarly journal, and that it is peer-reviewed.
Step 3. Find the most important points in each source
Your literature review would be limited in the word count, so you will not have enough space to write about everything you have read in the research. Therefore, get the most essential information from it.
Step 4. Group the conclusions from the sources
Some of the sources will argue one point, and others — the opposite. Besides, the third type of sources may focus on the issue slightly different from the rest. Once you have the main points highlighted, try to group those to have a clear outline of your future literature review.
Step 5. Start writing
Apart from the necessity to use lots of sources, the literature review does not differ much from the regular paper. So you can write a short introduction, and provide the main arguments taken from the sources. Be sure to have one point for the paragraph and support it with at least a few different sources.
What are the advices for the literature review?
While following the steps mentioned above, you can also keep in mind a few simple advices which may make the process of writing the literature review easier. There are four basic ones.
Try to choose articles, not the books
You will need plenty of time to read (or at least look through) the book. Obviously, you can use it to read tens of articles, which would be more precise and credible. So unless you really should include the book in the literature review, try to avoid them.
Skip the article if you don’t see the strong link to your research
Some articles may have a similar topic but, at the same time, add nothing to your review. Don’t waste your time looking for the hidden gems: save some precious minutes and get to another source.
Find connections between the sources
Show where the sources are similar and where they aren’t; consider the points of agreement and disagreement of the authors; you can even relate to the methodology used in the different articles. All that will ensure the better flow of your literature review.
Pay attention to the gaps
Even the most credible studies are not perfect: if you wish to be objective, don’t forget to mention the weaknesses of the sources you have chosen. It will also help you to argue with those sources later in work.
These advices will definitely help you to avoid unnecessary work and write a lit review without serious struggles. Just be sure to pick a suitable topic and spend enough time on research. Good luck!