Literature Review: Strategies for Writing a Lit Review
So, you’ve just been given an assignment to write a literature review. Immediately, you think of your favorite book or one that is quick and easy to read to make sure that this academic paper is a walk in the park. But then you’re told to hold on, take a few steps back, it’s not so easy; a literature review is a lot more complicated than you think. You start to sweat and get a little worried. But guess what, there’s no need to worry. This article will teach you how to do a literature review. We will tell you all you need to know about writing a literature review so that you are able to write that paper with ease. So, let’s get started.
What is a literature review?
A literature review is a research paper written after you have done research and evaluation of the available documentation and information (literature) on a particular topic. Often called a lit review, it should achieve the following objectives:
- Surveying the relevant materials (literature) in the field of study or topic.
- Synthesizing the material into an easy-to-read and understand summary.
- Analyzing the materials to show any possible gaps in the stated knowledge of the topic. This can be done by highlighting areas where there are limitations in the theories or points of view and by identifying areas for further research.
- Presenting the literature in a concise and organized manner.
A well-written lit review indicates to your audience that you have in-depth knowledge on the chosen topic, that you fully understand the context of the material and where it fits in with the current body of available information.
Is a literature review similar to an academic research paper?
A literature review is included in an academic research paper but is not the whole paper. An academic research paper requires you to do a review of literature pertaining to the theme or topic of interest and then give an argument. This is not necessary for a lit review. In this type of paper, you summarize the materials and state the arguments and points of view made by others and use that as your information rather than putting forward your own ideas.
Why are literature reviews written and who writes them?
A literature review can be used as a stand-alone paper or as a part of an academic research paper. Lit reviews are often written by students in the sciences and social sciences, however, this type of paper is also utilized in the humanities field of study.
Factors to consider before writing a lit review
1. Complete understanding of the assignment
The first step is to make sure you understand what is required of you for the assignment. Speak with your instructor and make sure you are clear on all aspects, especially, how many sources you should use, what types of sources are best or required and whether or not the sources should be evaluated. Once you are sure of these, you can move to the next step.
2. Find and review similar literature review samples
Search for similar literature review examples on the topic so you have an idea of how these have been written and some of the sources used. One good place to look is the bibliographies and references of some of the materials you’ve read as they can point you in the right direction for finding other materials. You may also ask your instructor to give you a literature review template or example of a literature review so you could refer to it when writing your own work.
3. Narrow down your options to a specific topic
After you have read and searched widely, narrow down your options to a specific number of sources to be used for your literature review paper. Consult with your instructor for advice on the ideal number of sources to use to make sure that your lit review is as comprehensive as possible.
4. Review sources and ensure they are up to date
Now that you have narrowed down your options, make sure the ones selected for your literature review assignment are current and relevant. Some disciplines require lit reviews to be done with the most recent materials available, so be sure to check with your instructor on this as well.
3 Strategies you can employ when writing a literature review
1) Focus on a specific topic or theme
Review your sources and look for a common theme that connects them. Once you’ve done this, you may write your lit review paper surrounding that idea and commonality rather than speaking on the individual sources.
2) State your topic or theme to your readers
Once, you’ve arrived at your main theme or idea, state it in one, simple sentence that will tell your readers what to expect in the rest of the paper.
3) Organize your topic or theme in a way that is easy to understand by your reader
Just like other research papers, your literature review must be organized so that it flows easily and is readable. Your literature review format must have a beginning, middle and end that is clearly defined and understandable.
How to structure a literature review
When structuring your literature review, it is no different than any other research paper, as it needs the following:
- Introduction - This is where you give a quick introduction to your topic and main idea or theme.
- Body – Here, you discuss your sources and how they fit into each other. You may do this in one of several ways (see How to organize your sources in a literature review below)
- Closing paragraph consisting of your conclusions or recommendations – Tell your audience what you have concluded from your reading and analysis and what you see possible for the future.
How to organize sources in a literature review
- Thematic – Your lit review work may be arranged based on a common theme surrounding the topic or issue. Sub-headings for this would be based on the central topic or issue.
- Methodological – Here, you write the piece based on the methods used by the researcher.
- Chronological order – This is when you write according to when the literature was published. Sub-headings for this way of organizing your literature review would be based on time periods.
- By trend – You may write your literature review according to the trends. In doing this, you may be able to have sub-headings that address, for example, a particular period of time.
Other inclusions for a literature review
- History. This is an outline of the chronological evolution of the literature or idea that will allow for a better understanding of the topic.
- Methods and/or Standards. This is an explanation of he criteria used to select the sources for the lit review or the way the literature was presented.
- Current situation discusses any information surrounding the issues that will help the reader to better understand the focus or literature review topic.
What to do when writing a great literature review
Now that you are ready to start composing your literature review, there are a few things you must do to ensure a well-written review. Make sure to follow these instructions.
- Give supporting evidence for all your points to verify that you have a good understanding of the material from the sources.
- Don’t use quotes unless it is necessary to emphasize a point.
- Make sure you summarize and synthesize your sources in the paragraphs and all through the review.
- Select only the most important points from your sources. When using them for your literature review, make sure they relate to the topic or theme.
- Make sure the literature review expresses your interpretations and is written in your own voice. While the information used may come from other sources, it is important to ensure your audience detects your voice in the written piece.
- Be careful when paraphrasing and take great care to ensure that the author’s words, information and opinion are accurately represented in your own words.
- As your lit review comes to a close, make sure you proofread, edit and revise where necessary. This will reduce the possibilities of spelling and grammatical errors, which can cause you to lose valuable points when graded. In addition, make sure all your sources were cited, the appropriate method was used to cite them and the review itself has the correct formatting (APA or MLA).
We have given you quite an extensive guideline for how to write a literature review. Use this when writing your next lit review and we guarantee you will find it to be a quick and easy walk in the park.
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