How to Write a Literature Review


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A literature review is an essential part of most academic papers and research projects. It demonstrates your knowledge of the academic field, critical analysis of previous research, and clarification of your chosen research area and topic. While it can be a difficult section to tackle, breaking down the process into clear steps makes literature reviews more manageable.

Read on to learn best practices for effectively writing your literature review.

Define Your Research Question

The first step in this comprehensive guide on writing a literature review is clearly establishing your research aims and the specific questions you want to address. This gives a focus on which material you'll include or exclude in your review. Carefully consider if your question has been answered previously, needs updating, or addresses a gap in academic understanding.

This investigation into published work will also help refine your topic. You may discover your question has been explored from angles you hadn't considered or that there are supporting theories worth including.

Conduct a Literature Search

Once your research parameters are decided, begin your literature search. Cast a wide net to gather resources related to key concepts in your question. Sources to consider include:

• Academic journal articles and conference papers

• Published clinical trials, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews

• Books and book chapters

• Working papers

• Government reports

• PhD dissertations and master's theses

• Bibliographies of sources to uncover new references

Take time to absorb, analyze, and organize each source you review. Cite all literature gathered to acknowledge the authors' work and ensure you have full references should you decide to use the source. There are various citation management software products available that can assist you in storing details.

Evaluate the Literature

You now have literature spanning theories, results, debates, models and many other research outputs. The next vital step is assessing each paper regarding the value it'll bring to your review. Consider factors such as:

• Alignment to your chosen topic – Does it address your research question or a related key theme?

• The date of publication – How current or out of date is this information? More weight should typically be given to recent contributions.

• Recognized impact – What is the level of influence based on the number of citations or publishing journals? Highly influential works warrant more discussion.

• Research approach – What methodology does the author utilize: interviews, statistical modeling, conceptual theory building?

• Major findings – What are the significant outcomes included that impact your topic?

Identify Themes

Once you've filtered for the most relevant papers, analyze these documents to pull out common threads. These themes essentially form the subtopics that will make up sections within your literature review.

Key themes could include:

• Debates between competing theories

• Influences driving observed consumer attitudes

• Limitations in statistical modeling approaches

• Proposed processes for regulatory reforms

Consider themes that have conflicting viewpoints between authors versus areas where consensus exists. Both extremes give you material to critique and dive into deeper analysis within your writing.

Craft an Outline

The themes uncovered shape your literature review outline. For example, if the theme of your review is about the proposed processes for regulatory reforms, section headers might be:

• Introduction

• Triggers identified for reform

• Debates on reform impact metrics

• Primary models proposed for redesign

• Limitations of current reform understanding

Plan paragraphs within each section to discuss relevant works corresponding to the theme. You may organize by chronology to demonstrate how understanding has progressed over time or by the degree of influence authors carry. Ensure you have a logical flow from section to section, inserting transition sentences as needed.

Write Your First Draft

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With your outline set, the drafting stage can begin. Your goal in writing this first version is to get your analysis down on paper while clearly representing each source. Avoid worrying about word limits or perfect phrasing at this point.

Key elements to include are:

1. Introduction:

• Establish topic importance and background.

• State research aim and questions.

• Provide an overview of major themes that structure the review.

2. Body sections based on themes:

• Name the focus of the section.

• Summarize individual sources pertinent to the theme, describing theories, models, findings, etc. Insert citations.

• Compare and critique sources against each other, noting agreements and contradictions.

• Identify the influence and impact of sources.

• Discuss weaknesses, knowledge gaps, and areas for additional exploration.

3. Conclusion:

• Summarize insights from analysis of the body section themes.

• State recommendations for future research directions.

• Conclude by restating key outcomes from the literature you reviewed.

Revise Your Draft

You now have a complete first draft with cited sources covering your chosen research topic. However, you still need significant self-editing and proofreading to refine and finalize the manuscript.

Common revisions include:

• Verify all cited works match references.

• Improve transitions between paragraphs and sections.

• Adjust wording for clarity, accuracy, and academic tone.

• Add or delete content to better support themes.

• Balance discussion of different sources.

• Check page limits if restricted by academic guidelines.

• Have someone else, such as peers and advisors, review and provide feedback.

Proper care at the drafting and revision stages will ensure the literature review is comprehensive, insightful, and informative to your readers.  Utilizing this robust process will produce a polished literature review.

In Closing

There you have it! You're now well-equipped to craft an excellent literature review like the literary echelon you're meant to be. With this article packed with all the right tips, tricks, and approaches to going about your literature review journey, you'll surely demonstrate command in whatever academic field you're in.

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