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An online guide on how to write a literature review

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John Milovich
John Milovich
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Former college customer turned freelance writer, shares insider insights on the essay industry.

What is a literature review? The scholars define a literature review as a piece of writing that shows your knowledge of the academic literature on a specific subject. A literature review typically includes a critical assessment of the material. Writing literature reviews can be a separate task or a part of a larger academic work like a term paper or a dissertation. A reviewer should have the following plan as they are writing a literature review:

  • Do a thorough research of the academic sources;
  • Complete a full evaluation of the sources;
  • Determine the main ideas and themes;
  • Create a clear outline of the review structure;
  • Write an in-depth literature review for class;
  • Edit the literature review and remove errors.

A well-written literature review is more than a smart compilation of sources to form a coherent picture or a simple essay that does not require you to carry out substantial research. It is a synthesis and assessment of different scholarly approaches to demonstrate that you know the subject.

What is the purpose of a literature review

If you are tasked with writing a larger project, such as a dissertation or research paper, a literature review is what goes after defining the topic. It helps you frame the necessary problems within the research and establish your familiarity with the subject. After you’ve completed a review, you will find it easier to define what is already known about the theme and whether there are any knowledge gaps that you need to fill. Other major goals of writing the literature review include:

  • Show your understanding of nuances and academic context within the research;
  • Determine the potentially controversial areas in your work and highlight them;
  • Devise a methodology you are going to use when carrying out your research;
  • Establish parallels between your academic project and research by other scholars;
  • Demonstrate how your research can add a new interpretation to the subject.

Another goal of a literature review that deserves an honorable mention is the evaluation of the stage of the research you are currently at. Writing a coherent review is impossible without the author acknowledging earlier theories and debates surrounding the topic of your review.

How to write a literature review | step-by-step guide

1. Do research on the academic sources

Writing the literature review is easier once you dissect your research into several parts, making it more manageable and comprehensive. After you have narrowed down the topic of your research, you can search for reliable sources that pertain to your problem and lend the most detailed insights into the research.

Literature review research problem example: How does Freud's psychoanalysis impact the interpretation of fairy tales and children's stories?

To make sure you are on the right path and follow the key steps to writing a literature review, we recommend identifying relevant sources and literature through the use of keywords. Write down all the concepts that come to mind whenever you think of your topic. You can use the mind map principle, with your theme as a central concept, or list the keywords that you’ve encountered as you conducted the subject analysis:

Relevant keywords example: Psychoanalysis, imagery, repression, interpretation, symbolism, dream, fantasy, syndrome, development, childhood, fairy tale, tendencies, desires.

The students can also use the following databases to find information for their literature review: Google Scholar, ScienceOpen, Microsoft Academic, ResearchGate, Scopus, and Web of Science.

2. Assess the relevant sources

How do I write a literature review if there are too many sources? If you've asked yourself the same, we are here to help. No matter how credible the publications you have come across, you cannot use them all. Instead, you must provide a compilation of these sources after analyzing and synthesizing the literature. Here is how you evaluate information:

  • Define the key problem or question of the publication;
  • Determine the most common assumptions about the subject;
  • Discover the main methodologies and approaches used by the scholar;
  • Find out if the researcher uses the established system or concept or a more original, innovative attitude to the research;
  • Write down the conclusion the researcher comes to at the end of the publication;
  • Decide if the publication challenges or agrees with other literature on the subject.

Before you begin the evaluation process, make sure you have studied other examples of literature reviews and are familiar with all the major theories, ideas, and studies related to the subject.

3. Determine the main ideas and themes

If you want to build a perfect literature review structure for your topic, you must compare the sources you've read, draw out the most important facts, and determine the connections between them. This will help you form a cohesive view of the subject and define the most recognizable theories. Based on your previous notes, this is what you should be looking for:

  • Recurring Patterns: Are some of the findings outdated? Has the popularity of some theories changed over time, and if so, what are the reasons you can no longer use them for your literature review?
  • Common Themes: What are the most common themes raised in relation to your subject? What questions related to your subject continue to resurface over time?
  • Common Disagreements: Are there any contested theories in your findings? Out of all the concepts you have discovered, where do the scholars disagree the most?
  • Influential Theories: What are the major theories and studies that changed the way the scholars view the problem?
  • Potential Gaps: Was there anything missing from the findings you have discovered? What can be contributed to the subject?

This is an important step for writing a literature review as you can demonstrate how your skills, knowledge, and findings can add to the existing materials.

Example: As you conduct research on psychoanalysis and fairy tales and subsequently learn how to format a lit review, you study literature mostly focused on Western European folklore and its relation to Freud's studies. However, you notice a potential gap that you can highlight in your research - the absence of studies on Freudian theories in relation to Eastern European folklore. 

4. Write an outline for your literature review

How do you structure the body of a literature review to make it look cohesive? There are several methods you can use to make your review look well-structured:

  • Theoretical: A theoretical approach requires the researcher to use existing theories and concepts as a basis for their studies. You can also compare different theories when writing a graduate literature review.
  • Methodological: If you have been working with an extensive list of sources, you can compare the sources using a more professional approach. Group your findings based on the scholarship type. You can separate the sources into historical, social, and cultural or highlight the type of knowledge used when describing them (theoretical or empirical).
  • Theme-Based: If you know how to conduct a literature review with your theme divided into several sections, you can achieve a more organized approach. For example, you may divide the topic of psychoanalysis in children’s stories into subtopics such as Freudian studies, the history of a fairy tale, the psychological aspect of children’s stories, and fairy tale interpretations.
  • Chronological: This is the simplest approach to studying the development of the theme. Make sure you not only include dates but also list the landmarks and major turning points in the history of the subject.

5. Write an in-depth literature review on the subject

How to complete a literature review if you need it to be both compelling and informative? Think of a literature review as a regular academic task. It has to follow a certain structure to hook your readers and make them interested in what you are trying to convey. Here is how to start a lit review properly:

  • Introduction: Your introduction should mention the central subject of the paper and contain ideas that outline the purpose of your paper. If the subject of your literature review is a popular one, you can emphasize how many researchers have dedicated themselves to the problem. If there is a lack of innovative approach to the topic, start your introduction by saying that you are determined to apply a less traditional method of research. The introduction is one of the steps to write literature review that can define your research and give you the right direction.
  • Body: How do you write a literature review that is detailed and coherent? First, you need to divide the body of your review into subheadings. Make sure the subheadings do not contradict each other by summarizing each point you make at the end of the paragraph. You don’t have to borrow ideas from other authors if you feel like your contribution to the research is sufficient. Present your interpretation of the subject and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments made by other scholars. To make logical connections within the body of the review, use transition words to link the sentences.

Example: Freud's take on the psychology of a children's tale is seen as controversial by most. Consequently, many researchers dismiss his further discourse on the topic and ignore the implications that every story has a secret message.

  • Conclusion: If you want to know how to do a lit review properly, you should never forget about the conclusion. A great conclusion summarizes the points you have taken from the literature sources and tells your audience about the new aspects of the research. You can also include the existing theories within the relevant sources that you have agreed upon / contested in the process of academic research.

6. Edit your literature review

You already know how to create a literature review that matters. Now, it is time to step away from your work, get a good rest, and collect your thoughts. Ideally, you need to look at your literature review as if it were written by somebody else. Is it easy to read? Do you understand the overall message of the review and the author’s stance on the subject? Learning how to write a literature review paper and proofread the text may take a lot of effort, but it is all worth it once you know how to finish the editing process. Check if your work is well-structured, and make sure there are no grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors that can negatively affect the quality of your paper. Our literature guide was designed to aid you in carrying out research and proofreading your text effectively.

Sometimes, however, creating a literature review on your own is a hard task to handle. You must compare the relevant sources, take notes, and synthesize information. If you need help with literature review and proofreading, getting familiar with the college essay writing service reviews will be extremely useful. Writing platforms like speedypaper.com and writepaperfor.me exist to improve your grades with the best literature review you will ever encounter. Are you looking for urgent help with writing a literature review because of a tight timeframe to follow? Rest easy: a professional essay writing service will create your paper from scratch, adhering to the proper formatting and ensuring your work is cost-efficient. You can also say goodbye to unedited, messy-looking literature reviews, as the writing experts go out of their way to proofread your work.

Summary

Writing a literature review can be complicated if you have a vague idea of how to structure the review and work with the sources properly. However, once you understand the foundation of any literature review, which includes analyzing the relevant sources and synthesizing information, you will learn how to complete your academic tasks more effectively. We have provided the readers with valuable tips for literature review they can use to survey the available list of academic findings and apply the literature review help writing recommendations in their research.

FAQs

A literature review focuses on summarizing, analyzing, and synthesizing existing research and literature on a specific topic, rather than presenting new research findings.

Choose sources that are relevant, credible, and recent, representing a variety of perspectives and methodologies to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic.

A literature review usually consists of an introduction, where the topic is introduced and the scope of the review is defined; a body, where the literature is organized thematically or chronologically; and a conclusion, summarizing the key findings and identifying gaps for future research.