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How To Write The Best Literature Review

Writing your first literature review can be nerve-wracking. It’s now time to show off your academic skills by exhibiting your ability to engage with the body of scholarly research in your field. There may be a few different reasons you find yourself writing one:

  • You’re writing a dissertation and need to evaluate and apply relevant scholarly material to the support of your research. This is considered a comprehensive review.
  • You’ve been assigned one as a class assignment. These usually focus around a small and specific topic and are considered selective.
  • You’re an established academic and wish to add to the scholarly literature. These are called standalone reviews.

Literature reviews require you to do more than simply read and review resources. The ultimate goal is to work with the material to address something within the body of literature. Examples of possible topics include a connection between theories that has gone unrecognized, inconsistencies in the literature, or something you see to be a strength or weakness within the field.

What exactly is the “literature?”

All of the scholarly material available within a field of study comprises the literature. This includes books, journals, articles, peer reviews, standalone literature reviews, and dissertations. This material can be found in libraries, or by searching academic databases.

Think of the literature as a conversation. The literature review is your chance to join that conversation. This is where you process the ideas presented in your field and contribute to them.

Review of the Literature

Before beginning the writing process, you will need to review the literature. This is the research phase when you compile material relevant to your chosen topic. Read through materials, analyzing information and making notes as you go. Be sure to list key highlights from each article. Afterwards, quickly summarize the information from the articles, comparing and contrasting to help make connections.

Synthesizing the material will lead you to your thesis statement, and it will also help you determine how to organize the information in the next step of the process: writing.

Writing the Review

Literature reviews have a simple introduction/body/conclusion structure.

  • The introduction should include a thesis statement that lets the reader know what you will be exploring within the literature. This is where the specific scholarly works discussed in the review should be introduced and mapped. Let the reader know what order the works will be presented in and why, giving them a mental map that will help them navigate the rest of the review.
  • The body is where you will present your information and analysis. Be sure to use transitional phrases to guide the reader through the flow of information.
  • The way you organize information is integral to writing a good review. There is no one rule to proper organization because the nature of the topic will determine this. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the amount of space devoted to an article or idea should correlate to how important it is to supporting the thesis.

  • The conclusion should neatly round out the analysis without offering any new information or perspective.

Writing a literature review might make you nervous at first, but it’s an essential part of the academic process. This is your chance to really engage with the academic community by adding to the scholarly discourse.

While it shouldn’t be taken lightly, there’s really no need to panic. Much of what you learned throughout your studies was meant to prepare you for the thought and planning that goes into your literature review. You already have the necessary skills, so let go of the worry and trust that you have something worthwhile to say about the scholarly literature in your field.