So You Have to Write a Literature Review?

9 Sep

Here’s what a literature review is:

According to Washington and Lee University (2007), a literature review should present a summary and synthesis of research in order to help readers establish a foundation of understanding. It will point out different ways researchers have treated the research topic, in addition to any connections between and among sources. A literature review will explain how sources build upon one another and fit together. Some questions a literature review might consider are as follows:

  • What is known about the topic?
  • Are there any gaps in the knowledge of the topic?
  • Have areas of further study been identified by other researchers?
  • 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 the topic?
  • What is the current status of research in this area?

Here’s how you can get started:

1. Once you’ve chosen your (narrow!) topic and had it approved by your instructor, you’ll select at least 5 articles. For help with this, plan to attend a LibraryLive/APA session in mid-September. The librarian will show you how to find articles, and then I’ll show you how to cite them! Stay tuned for more details about what days/times the sessions will be offered.

2. Summarize your articles for yourself before you start writing the lit review. This way, it will be easier for you to find common denominators among the articles (research methods—qualitative or quantitative, findings, etc.). Based on this synthesis, you’ll start to think about how you might organize your paper.

3. You won’t organize your paper by simply listing summaries of each of the articles you’ve found (Article One shows…and Article Two says…). Instead, you’ll likely organize your paper according to trends, themes, etc. that you identified after synthesizing. Here’s a sample lit review outline that might give you some idea of how this works:

  • Introduction: Introduce the topic broadly. Then, narrow the reader’s focus to a thesis that will be supported by the body of the paper. Sample thesis from UNC Writing Center (2007): The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine.
  • First Section of Body: To provide some background and context, explain the history of treatments for congestive heart failure, as cited in the literature (research articles).
  • Second Section: Explain what the literature shows about treating congestive heart failure with surgery.
  • Third Section: Explain what the literature shows about treating congestive heart failure with medicine.
  • Fourth Section: Explain what the literature shows about treating congestive heart failure with a combination of surgery and medicine.
  • Conclusion:  Reiterate thesis; describe the strengths and weaknesses of the reviewed literature. Strengths might include contributions to the field of study. Weaknesses might include gaps in the literature (important issues that have yet to be addressed).

Here’s where you can find more info:

Courtesy of Dr. Meghan Hollowell. 

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