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How to Write a Literature Review

If you are a college student, at some point of your studying, you will need to write a literature review. Generally speaking, it is aimed at analyzing the resources used to study a certain subject. In other words, it is a kind of meta-research, and as such, it requires approaching it with responsibility and the knowledge of procedure.

There are different ways to write a literature review. Some of them can be simply summarizing the contents of sources; others turn out to be solid and grounded overviews of published material in a certain field or subject. Regardless of the form, there is a number of goals a literature review should accomplish.

What Are Literature Reviews Used For?

First of all, a literature review defines the areas of study and the topic the sources are related to, and shows how each of the sources contributed to the disclosure of the subject. For instance, a review may describe the ways in which a source proves or denies a theory, or explains the results of an experiment, and so on.

A literature review demonstrates how (and whether) the sources are connected with each other, and suggests new and/or alternative ways of interpreting them. Optionally, a literature review can evaluate how full, important, and easy to comprehend the information contained in the source is. Also, it may estimate the role of a source among other ones. Finally, a literature review points out possible routes for new, upcoming research in the field.

A review can serve as a launchpad for research, or as a quick overview of material on a certain subject.

Preparing to Write a Literature Review

As we can see, a well-crafted literature performs a number of functions. Respectively, writing such a review requires thorough preparation. Here are some tips that will help you get started. As almost any other kind of academic writing, a literature review consists of an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.

  • In the introductory section, you should define the subject and elaborate on the work done on the topic. It is advisable that you mention gaps and controversies existing in the area the subject is related to. You should also formulate the purpose of your review clearly.
  • In the main body section, your task is to summarize, analyze, and/or evaluate the sources used for research of a certain subject. You should specify the main topics/issues each of the reviewed sources cover. It is also advisable that you highlight the main points the researchers of the topic agree or disagree on.
  • In the conclusion, you must connect the reviewed sources to your own research. Show how the study you conduct is based on/connected to the research by other specialists, and briefly summarize the discourse the analyzed sources are in.

Naturally, before writing a literature review, you must find all the required sources, and get yourself acquainted with them. Next comes reading, analysis, comprehension, and taking notes on the material. When looking for sources, make sure to use not only those that support your thesis, but also those that are contrary to it.

Analyzing Sources

In order to craft a well-written literature review, it is important to understand how exactly the process of analysis should be conducted. The following steps should take you through the routine. For each of the sources you are going to review, you might want to:

  • Check the author’s credentials. In other words, you must understand the level of the author’s expertise in the field, the contribution he or she made to study the subject, and so on.
  • Figure out the thesis the author of the source comes up with. The thesis is what the whole source is about.
  • Define the methodology the author of the source used when conducting the research: whether it was a laboratory experiment, observation, survey, data analysis, calculations, etc.
  • Evaluate the findings and conclusions the author makes. What are the outcomes of the research described in the source? What is so important about the author’s discovery? How does his or her findings contribute to the overall understanding of the subject?

After you analyze each of the selected sources in the way described above, it is time to compare them. First, you need to figure out the similarities and the controversies in the opinions of the authors whose works you have analyzed. Pay attention to not just their findings, but also to the discrepancies in the theses they made and the methods they used. Then, if it is possible, pick out the trends existing in the research of the subject.

Next, you need to gather all the material necessary for writing a literature review, and start working on your first draft. Remember to double-check all the information you include in your review. Also, do not treat the process of analyzing sources lightly, since the future of your research depends, to a certain degree, on how well you accomplish this task.

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