Literature Review Definition
A literature review refers to a critical analysis of literature, published sources or a certain topic. Literature reviews can be simply a summary of sources. However, they have an organizational pattern and seek to combine both a summary and synthesis.
The summary provides a recap of the essential information of the source. The synthesis, on the other hand, is basically a reshuffling or re-organization of that information. It might offer a totally new interpretation of some old material or combine both the old and new interpretations. Alternatively, it may trace the intellectual progression of a field including but not limited to major debates. Depending on the circumstance, a literature review might evaluate the sources as well as advise a reader on the most relevant or pertinent.
Therefore, the main objective of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the ideas and arguments of others without adding any new contributions.
What Makes a Good Literature Review?
An excellent literature review should be critical of what has been written. It should also identify areas that need further research, raise questions and recognize areas of controversy. The review should not just describe what others have published in form of a string of summaries. It should take the form of a discussion, showing insight as well as an awareness of differing approaches, theories, and arguments. It ought to be an analysis and synthesis of the pertinent work published, linked at all times to your rationale and purpose.
The literature review should:
- Show how a study relates to earlier studies
- Highlight gaps in research
- Highlight exemplary studies
- Note those areas that authors disagree
- Criticize aspects of methodology
- Group authors that draw similar conclusions
- Contrast and compare different the views of different authors on an issue
- Show how a study relates to literature in general
- Finalize by summarizing exactly what the literature says
Where Is a Literature Review Used?
A literature review can be used at postgraduate or undergraduate levels. At postgraduate level, it comes in handy by getting incorporated into a thesis, research project or an article. When it comes to undergraduate level, a literature review can act as a separate stand-alone evaluation or assessment. At the university, one might be needed to pen down a literature review to demonstrate his or her understanding of the literature on a certain topic. Through a literature review, you are able to show your understanding by analyzing and synthesizing information to do the following:
- Offer solid background to a particular research paper’s investigation
- Identify any conflicting evidence
- Discover any gaps in a research
- Identify and classify weaknesses and strengths
- Discover any major patterns or relationships
- Offer an overview of main concepts
- Determine exactly what has already been written on a certain topic
Occasionally, literature reviews are written in the humanities field. However, in most cases, these reviews are part of social sciences and sciences; in lab reports and experiments, the make up a section of the paper. At times, a literature review is written as its own paper.
Literature Review Outline
Generally, literature reviews come in the format of a standard essay. They are made up of three main components. These are – an introduction, body, and conclusion. Of great importance to note is the fact that this review is not an annotated bibliography where the summary of every source gets listed one by one.
The overall or general structure of your literature review depends largely on your research area or thesis. Like indicated earlier, the structure of a literature review is characterized by three main sections – introduction, body, and conclusion.
Introduction – Your introduction should:
- Define the topic and offer an appropriate context for your reviewing
- Establish your point of view or reasons
- Explain the organization that is, the sequence of the review
- Excellently state the scope of the review
Body – The main or middle body ought to do the following:
- Move from a wider or general view of the literature in review and focus on a specific area or part of your research
- Provide an insight into the relationship between the topic you have chosen and the wider subject area
- Organize the literature based on common themes
Conclusion – Here is what your conclusion should have or do:
- Summarize all the crucial aspects of the current body of literature
- Evaluate the existing state of literature reviewed
- Identify important gaps or flaws in existing knowledge
- Link your research to current knowledge
- Outline the areas for your future study
Literature Review Writing Tips
Before getting into literature review tips, it is important to know what to do before starting writing a literature review. Here are some of the steps you should take before penning down this kind of review:
Clarify – If the assignment is specific, it is prudent to seek clarification from an instructor. Seek the following information:
- Approximately how many sources should be included
- Which types of sources should you use (websites, journal articles, books etc)
- Should you summarize, critique or synthesize your sources by discussing a common issue or theme?
- Should you offer subheadings or other background information like a history and/or definitions?
- Should you evaluate your sources
Find models – Search for other literature reviews in your area of specialization or discipline. After that, read them thoroughly in order to get some sense of the types of themes you may need to look for in the research or the ways to organize the final review.
Narrow your topic – In most areas of study, hundreds if not thousands of books and articles exist. The narrower a topic is, the easier it is to limit the number of the sources needed to obtain an excellent survey of the material.
Are your sources current? – Other disciplines need you to utilize as current information as possible. For instance, in the sciences, treatments for medical problems constantly change according to recent studies. Nonetheless, when it comes to social sciences, history or humanities, a survey of a literature might be all that is needed. This is because the most important thing is how perspectives have changed throughout the years.
Use the following tips to come up with an out of this world literature review:
1. Find focus – Similar to a term paper, a literature review is normally organized around ideas and not the sources themselves. This simply means that one cannot just list his or her sources and proceed to detail each of them, one at a time, absolutely no! All you need to do is consider what issues or themes connect your sources together.
2. Construct an impressive or working thesis statement – After finding focus, use it to construct a working thesis statement. In this case, the statement argues for a certain perspective on the article or material.
3. Consider organization – Topics and subtopics are the main guidelines to inform your organization. The million dollar question that begs then is, in what order do you need to present them? Develop an organization for the review at both a local and global level.
4. Other tips you can use to come up with a great literature review are:
- Always use evidence
- Be selective
- Use quote sparingly
- Summarize and synthesize
- Maintain your own voice
- When paraphrasing, always use caution
Where Can One Find Help With Literature Review Writing?
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