How to Write a Literature Review: Steps and Outline
So you’re working on your research paper, thesis, or dissertation and you come across an unfamiliar term – “Literature Review.”
It sounds like a challenging concept; however, with the help of this guide, you will be able to understand how to write a literature review as well as its format.
Literature reviews are usually written in the field of humanities, sciences, and social sciences. They are written as a part of different lab reports and experiments in science. It is a part of research paper writing and every student must include it in his paper.
What is a Literature Review
A literature review is a survey of the most relevant scholarly sources (journal articles, books, theses, etc.) that provide an insight into a particular topic. It gives a comprehensive look at the details about the topic, such as what has been said and by whom. Moreover, a literature review shows an overview of the key findings, central themes, revelations, developments, and different concepts regarding the research question.
A well-written literature review isn’t simply a listing of sources or a mere summary of different sources, instead it
- Examines, analyzes and evaluates the text
- Highlights different patterns and themes
- Explains the current state of the problem at hand.
How Does a Literature Review Differ From a Research Paper?
A research paper is a piece of academic writing based on the author’s original research on a particular issue or topic. It focuses on developing a new argument through different steps and elements – literature review is one of them. A literature review serves as a basis of gaining in-depth information about the topic at hand.
When writing a literature review, you need to present new ideas. The aim is to summarize and evaluate the existing work done by others.
It is also different from an annotated bibliography as it summarizes and synthesizes different sources including books, journals, and articles.
What is the Purpose of Literature Review?
A literature review aims to provide people with a guide about a particular topic – it presents the writer’s viewpoint about the topic and their position. It also comes in handy when people don’t have the time to carry out extensive research, going through the literature review can help understand the latest trends in the field, previous studies, advancements, etc.
It is essential that the researcher understands the existing work that has been done in his field of interest and then establishes his research question.
How to Write a Literature Review?
‘How to write a literature review for a research paper?’
‘How to write a scientific literature review?’
‘How to write a psychology literature review?’
Get all the answers in the coming sections.
Just as any other piece of writing, some steps and criteria must be followed to write a literature review. There isn’t a set word count that you must meet; the length depends upon the overall word count of the paper. Or you can ask your professor and follow their instructions.
Here are some important steps that can help you start a literature review.
1. Understand the Requirements
Before you begin writing your assignment, make sure that you clearly understand the requirements. Take your time reading the prompt and clarify different aspects, such as the number of sources that you need to include.
What type of sources should you incorporate? Are you required to provide a brief summary of the sources or critique and evaluate them? Should the literature review have subheadings, etc?
2. Go Through Literature Review Examples
To get an idea of what literature reviews should look like, go through the ones written for the discipline that you are interested in. It will help you get an idea of how to present and organize your research.
3. Narrow your Focus
To write a literature review, you are going to get involved in exhaustive research. If you stick with a wider topic, it will be difficult for you to go through different books and articles. With a more focused topic, you can easily gather relevant information.
4. Select your Sources
There are thousands of different articles, journals, and other sources available on each topic – you can’t expect to go through each one of them. To filter out the sources that are most relevant and useful to your research question, go through their abstracts and decide if you want to use it. Ask yourself the following questions when choosing a source:
- What question is being addressed?
- What are the key points, models, methodologies?
- Are there some frameworks used?
- What is the result of the study?
- Strengths and weaknesses.
- Contribution towards the field.
5. Cite the Sources
When you select a source, it is a good practice to write them down and cite them as you go - this helps avoid plagiarism. You can use APA, MLA, or any other format according to your requirements.
6. Figure Out the Literature Review Structure
When it comes to writing a literature review, you can outline it using various ways such as:
A literature review comprises three sections – introduction, body, and conclusion. In the introduction, highlight the purpose and the focal point of your research.
The body incorporates the following points:
- Brief description of the publication
- Highlights its main points
- Talks about the gaps in research
- Assesses and evaluates how it contributed towards the overall topic
Conclude the literature review by discussing their significance.
Simply follow these steps to come up with an interesting literature review for your research paper. If you need help writing the rest of the components, check out this detailed blog on research paper outline.
Literature Review Example
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Frequently Asked Questions
How long is a literature review?
Typically, a literature review is between 2000 and 3000 words. But, its length depends on the scope of the work and the number of studies and research you have studied for your paper.
How many sources should a literature review have?
While there are no hard and fast rules regarding the number of sources added in the literature. However, if it is a standalone project and you are writing a 10-page literature review then it should examine at least 30 sources.
How many pages should a literature review be?
For a thesis or dissertation, the literature review must be at least 20 pages long. But, it solely depends on the length and scope of the work.
How old should sources be in a literature review?
Roughly, the sources should be no more than 10 years old for humanities, literature, art, and history papers.
What sources are not appropriate for a literature review?
Sources that you should not include in a literature review are magazines, non-published works, websites, and newspapers.
How long does it take to write a literature review?
It takes roughly 2 to 6 months to write a literature review. However, it depends on how many hours you dedicate to it each day and the length of the review.