Literature Review

What is a literature review?
A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes
information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.
A literature review:
• has an organizational pattern
• combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important
information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that
Depending on the goal, a literature review:
• May give a new interpretation of old material
• May combine new with old interpretations.
• May trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates.
• May evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
How is a literature review different from an academic research paper?
While the main focus of an academic research paper is to support your own argument, the focus
of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others. In most
cases, this allows you, the writer, to arrive to your argument, or more accurately, your hypothesis
and supporting research. In academic writing, a literature review is usually part of the larger

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Why do we write literature reviews?
Literature reviews:
• provide you and the reader with a handy guide to a particular topic.
• are useful reports that keep professionals up to date with what is current in the field.
• emphasize the credibility of the writer in his or her field by providing a solid background
for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the
field is essential to most research papers.
Tricks of the trade:
• Find a focus. A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not
the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that
you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one
at a time. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what
themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different
solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the
material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend
in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your
• Construct a working thesis statement. Yes! Literature reviews have thesis statements as
well! However, your thesis statement will not necessarily argue for a position or an
opinion; rather it will argue for a particular perspective on the material. Some sample
thesis statements for literature reviews are as follows:
The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine.
More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of
academic consideration.
You may have several thesis statements, actually, that support your larger, over-arching focus.
Consider organization
Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements:
an introduction or background information section that outlines your research problem; the body
of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or
recommendations section to end the paper.
Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the
sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this
section even further.
Note: More

Literature review Images

Basic steps that must be followed when generating a literature review for any research project.

tend to break away from chronological order.
Some ideas:
• Thematic. Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather
than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important
factor in a thematic review.
• Methodological. A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the
focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it
focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. A methodological scope will
influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these
documents are discussed.
Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you
need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your
organizational strategy.
Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:
• History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is
necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not
already a chronology.
• Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature
review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might
explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.
• Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked?
How will you further your research as a result of the review?
Once you’ve settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to write each section.
Some guidelines:
• Use evidence. A literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research
paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to
show that what you are saying is valid.
• Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type
of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review’s focus,
whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.
• Use quotes sparingly,
• Summarize and synthesize. Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within
each paragraph as well as throughout the review.
• Keep your own voice. While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the
writer’s) should remain front and center. Weave references to other sources into your own
text, but still maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your
own ideas and your own words. The sources support what you are saying.
• Use caution when paraphrasing. When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be
sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words

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