Chapter 1

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an important part of the introduction to the master's thesis, scientific work or an abstract of the dissertation. As a rule, a review contains information about the theoretical works you have taken as the basis for your research and covers a list of authors who have studied problems and directly/ indirectly relate to the subject of the study. It should also consider the literature corresponding to the research topic and justify the choice of the sources. In addition, the project rationale and subject matter should also be discussed in a review of the research literature. This links the introduction to your research topic and provides a logical flow of ideas.

A literature review can be included in the introduction or stand out as an independent chapter of your work. By the way, a chapter does not have to be called a “Literature Review.” You can entitle it the “Theoretical Part” or give it a name associated with the basic concepts of your project. As a rule, if a literary review is a part of the introduction, then it does not exceed three thousand characters and describes only the key works within the theoretical framework of the study. If you decide to single out the literature review in a separate chapter, then it is necessary to describe the most important works for your research in more detail.

  • How long should a literature review be?

    The literary review does not have any limitations or size standards, but, as a rule, it takes approximately 20-30% of the total size of the work it is written for. The length and detail of a literature review also depend on the extent to which you need to demonstrate your understanding of the theme. Being the “introductory” part of your work, a literature review shouldn’t be long. It should just briefly reflect the research strategy and sources you have used for the study.

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  • How is a literature review different from an academic research paper?

    In the research paper, the focus is more on research results and not on the book relevance/ justification. A literature review differs from a research paper for several reasons. Firstly, the literary review contains preliminary information on your topic that the reader is likely to read. Secondly, a literature review in detail explains the relevance of sources you have used and integrates them into the general context of the work. A review serves the purpose of a detailed introduction, states a thesis, and creates the informational backbone from the perspective of literature selection.

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  • What is the difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography?

    Many people confuse the concept of a literature review with the annotated bibliography. There is a significant difference between the two. When it comes to the annotated bibliography, you are dealing only with a list of authors and titles of works you have used for your project.

    In a literary review, creating a reference list is not enough. You are to draw parallels with other texts (based on a common time frame, common views of the authors, and any other statements), look for differences, express your opinion on the point of view presented in the work. It is imperative that in the review part of the work, you emphasize the importance of your research, namely, specify how deeply this or that problematic issue has been studied, whether it has been examined from all sides, in the works of famous scientists that you mentioned.

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Chapter 2

What is the purpose of a literature review?

The main function of a literary review is to give an idea of what has already been done on this issue earlier and to explain your decision to explore the topic. By including a literature review in the project, you can earn credibility for your research and demonstrate the scope of work you have done so far. Without this resource of trust, your research results may be perceived as nothing more than your personal opinion based on some basic methodologies. A poorly performed review of scientific literature can ruin research work.

Here are some of the main functions a review performs:

  • Proves that you have done the preparatory work;
  • Functions as a proof of research you have run;
  • Fills in the identified gap, eliminates the identified shortcomings in someone else's work, expands the existing study.
  • Outlines the materials on the theme that are currently available;
  • Assists you in justifying the position of the study you proposed;
  • Helps you develop a convincing structure for the material that you want to present as the basis for your work;

A literature review is also a good introductory component of your work that serves as a bridge between a topic and research results.

Chapter 3

Literature review outline

The easiest and most effective way to handle literature review writing is to develop an outline covering the main points. Having such an assistant at hand, you will not only spend less time collecting material but also be able to qualitatively complete the work. Here is what to focus on before developing an outline for your review:

  • The number of sources;
  • The nature of the source description (analytical, comparative, etc.);
  • The size of the review (calculated in the number of pages, words, characters without spaces, etc.);
  • The exact wording of the topic, which will narrow down your search for the right sources;
  • Citation style, which includes the nuances associated with a citation, the use of fonts, line spacing and indentation, etc.
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In order to write a good literary review, collect the necessary information and group it in the logical sequence. Take the following actions to develop an all covering outline for your literature review.

  • Research the topic and collect the sources relevant to the subject being studied;
  • Write down every statement on a separate sheet of paper, indicate source information as well (these shouldn’t necessarily be full sentences; you can write separate phrases or combination of words);
  • Group all the main points from the research data based on the angle they address the main theme;
  • Write down a thesis statement (the key idea of your work);
  • Play around with the order of main points - it is best to write a general key statement for every group of arguments.

Once you are done with the order of main points, you can develop it into a draft by adding some details or going deeper into the question.

How to write a literature review step-by-step

Literature review writing can become an easy task if you know how to approach it step-by-step and what to focus on at every stage.

  • Step 1 - Start evaluating sources

    Once you have created a list of keywords and terms related to your topic, run research, and already have a collection of relevant sources, it is time to evaluate and group them. In case you are stuck with research, here are some useful databases that will help you find any data you need:

    • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences);
    • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine);
    • EconLit (economics);
    • Inspec (physics, engineering, and computer science).

    To evaluate the source, it is not necessary to read every article/ publication in full. Instead, check the abstract to determine whether the source is accord. When evaluating the entry, check the following criteria:

    • The question/ problem the author addresses;
    • Key concepts outlined in the work;
    • Key theories, models, and methods discussed;
    • Innovative approach;
    • Study results and conclusions;
    • Strengths and weaknesses of the research.

    Before using any source, make sure that it is credible.

  • Step 2 - Group the data

    Develop an outline for your literature review - find logical connections between arguments and organize them. To group key ideas in the best way, look for:

    • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results);
    • Topic questions or concepts;
    • Debates, conflicts, and contradictions;
    • Data gaps;

    By grouping the key points, you will develop the structure of your literature review and will smoothly integrate your own research into the already existing concepts.

  • Step 3 - Plan the literature review structure

    There are several strategies of how to best arrange content in literature review:

    • Chronological - trace the development of the topic over time. However, you shouldn’t list or summarize the sources. Instead, analyze the pattern and highlight the logical bridges between the points.
    • Thematic - address different aspects of the topic in separate subsections of a literature review.
    • Methodological - group the results and compare them from different approaches.
    • Theoretical - discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. Argue the relevance of a particular theoretical approach, combine different theoretical concepts in order to establish a framework for your research.
  • Step 4 - Check a literature review example

    If you cannot write a review and do not know what to start with, feel free to check the review samples. You can easily find them on the Internet or ask your tutor to share some examples. By checking them, you will have a clear idea of how to arrange data in a literature review and what formulations are best to use.

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A review of the research literature is the key to familiarizing your audience with the topic of the study. Thus, it should be done with a thorough knowledge of the topic and be carefully approached. Having done it once, writing a literature review for your research project should not be too difficult for you. Otherwise, many tutorials will help organize your thoughts in the most effective way.