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Writing: Literature Review Basics
- What is Synthesis?
- Organizing Your Research
- Paraphrasing, Summary, or Direct Quotation?
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The Job of the Conclusion
The job of the conclusion is, quite literally, to conclude ... or to wrap things up so the reader feels a sense of closure. It accomplishes this by stepping back from the specifics in order to view the bigger picture of the document. In other words, it is reminding the reader of the main argument.
Whereas an introduction started out generally and moved towards discussion of a specific focus, the conclusion takes the opposite approach. It starts by reminding the reader of the contents and importance of your findings and then moves out gradually to more general topics.
For most written assignments, the conclusion is a single paragraph. It does not introduce any new information; rather, it succinctly restates your chief conclusions and places the importance of your findings within your field. Depending upon the purpose of the literature review, you may also include a brief statement of future directions or self-reflection.
Here is an easy checklist for writing a conclusion:
Is the main argument of the paper accurately restated as the first sentence (but is not copied verbatim?
In a literature review, you basicaly want to answer the question, "What did I find out? What conclusions did I come to?" Giving the reader a one-sentence answer to this question that provides a summary of your findings is a solid way to begin a conclusion.
What recommendations do you have?
Here you may offer the reader your suggestions on what you think should happen next. You can make recommendations that are specific to the evidence you have uncovered, or you can make recommendations for future research. When this area is well done, it links to previous conclusions you have already made and gives the conclusion a finished feeling.
Did you remind the reader of the importance of the topic and how it can contribute to the knowledge in the field?
Make sure that the paper places its findings in the context of some kind of needed change, relevance, or solution. If you addressed why the topic was interesting, important, or relevant in your introduction, you can loop back to that here. Other ways that can be done are to remind the reader of other research you have discussed and how your work builds upon theirs, or what gaps there may yet be to explore.
Keep these items in mind as "what not to do":
Is there a sense of closure without using words such as "In conclusion?"
If you have to use the words "In conclusion" or similar ones to launch your conclusion so the reader knows the end is near, you've got a problem. Make sure the reader has a distinct sense that the paper has come to an end without telling them it is ending. It is important to not leave the reader hanging.
Did you avoid presenting any new information?
No new ideas should be introduced in the conclusion. It is simply a review of the material that is already present in the paper. The only new idea would be the suggesting of a direction for future research.
Stigmatization of the mentally ill is caused by the public’s belief in myths about the dangerousness of the mentally ill and exposing those myths can reduce stigmatization. At least one-third of the people sampled in one study said that they would both reject socially and fear violence from someone displaying behaviors associated with different mentally illnesses. Other research discovered that this rejection is associated to lack of contact with the mentally ill and that as contact increased, fear of the mentally ill decreased. The direction of the relationship between fear and rejection seems to be that fear (possibly based upon myths about mental illness) causes rejection. Taken as a whole, it appears that exposing these myths as myths increases the acceptance of the mentally ill and that staged contact with a mentally person to expose myths has an even more powerful effect. Caution must be advised, though; Martin et al.’s (2002) and Alexander and Link’s (2003) studies and the first study of Corrigan et al. (2002) were based upon paper and pencil methodologies. And while Corrigan et al.’s (2002) second study involved staged Myths of violence 6 presentations, it was conducted in a college setting with a college sample. Future research should replicate these findings in more natural settings with different populations.
Now let's break that down.
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Concluding Your Literature Review
In the previous blogs, we talked about searching and assessing reference papers for your literature review , and shared tips on organising and writing the content . Let’s look now at how to conclude your literature review.
One of the aims of writing the literature review is to define the purpose and contribution of your own study. Your review should therefore cover the points listed below to provide the rationale or justification for your study:
⦁ gaps in the research
⦁ limitations of previous studies
⦁ weaknesses or lack of support for existing theories
- et al.' means 'and others'.
- Use 'et al.' to cite works with three or more authors.
- The presentation (et al., et al., or rarely et al) depends on the style guide or journal guidelines
The English language has a rich history of borrowing words from other languages, especially from Latin. Latin abbreviations such as ‘a.m.’, ‘p.m.’ and ‘CV’ have become part of our everyday vocabulary. Such abbreviations are also frequently used in academic writing, from the ‘Ph.D.’ in the affiliation section to the ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’, ‘et al.’, and ‘QED’ in the rest of the paper.
This guide explains when and how to correctly use ‘et al.’ in a research paper.
In this guide:
- 1) Meaning of ‘et al.’
- a) Table: Correct use of ‘et al.’ by style guide
- b) Unusual scenarios
Filling a Gap is Not a Rationale in itself
You need to state clearly what your study intends to achieve and why it is important.
It is not sufficient to simply say something like, “there is a gap in the research or literature”. Your readers might think that the gap exists only because there is no reason to fill such gap.
Then what should you consider including in the conclusion of your literature review?
1. Purpose or Objective of Your Study
First, you must be clear about what the purpose or objective of your study is. For example, you need to make it clear whether your study:
⦁ is designed to answer a specific question or solve a specific problem
⦁ is an experimental study looking for a cause and effect relationship
⦁ is a correlational study looking for relationships between variables
⦁ compares different clinical or psychological treatments or interventions
⦁ presents a new technique or an adaptation of an existing one
⦁ is a meta-analysis or review of previous studies
2. Significance of your Study
Try to be specific about the significance of your study and have a clear idea about what or who will benefit from it.
To give you some examples, a benefit might include:
⦁ advancing an existing theory or developing a new one
⦁ providing a new technique that will benefit future researchers
⦁ presenting a new material or product, or refining an existing one that will benefit industry
⦁ proposing a treatment or intervention that will aid clinicians and patients
⦁ providing evidence that can be used to improve government policy-making
Steps to Writing your Literature Review Conclusion
It is important to remember that the conclusion only needs to be a few sentences long. So, do not write too much.
You can follow the steps and adapt the sample expressions listed below:
Step #1: Start with a sentence to highlight the research gap
You may consider using one of these examples:
Despite the aforementioned theoretical inferences, no study to date has provided empirical support for the hypothesized effects
Step #2: State what you did to address the problem
Try using a sentence similar to one of these:
Therefore, in a series of experiments, we explored the direct effects of a on b and c, and tested whether m had a moderating influence on these effects
Step #3: Summarise how the findings will contribute to theory and/or practice
You may consider writing in one of these ways:
The results not only provide support for the theory, but also have practical implications for industry and government decision makers
Confirmation of the suitability of the intervention in this population will provide an alternative choice of treatment for this condition, which will benefit both patients and clinicians.
Putting those sample expressions together, we have the following example literature review conclusions.
“Given the lack of evidence for the applicability of this psychological intervention in Asian populations, we conducted a randomised control trial with a sample of patients who attended the clinic at ABC Hospital. Confirmation of the suitability of the intervention in this population will provide an alternative choice of treatment for this condition, which will benefit both patients and clinicians.”
But, always remember that the wording you use will differ depending on the nature of your study.
And no matter how different the wording you use is, the fundamental elements of this summary should not change, you must cover the following:
⦁ make clear the research gap
⦁ explain how you set out to address the problem
⦁ and why it was important to do so
Wondering why some abbreviations such as ‘et al.’ and ‘e.g.’ use periods, whereas others such as CV and AD don’t? Periods are typically used if the abbreviations include lowercase or mixed-case letters. They’re usually not used with abbreviations containing only uppercase letters.
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The structure of a literature review
A literature review should be structured like any other essay: it should have an introduction, a middle or main body, and a conclusion.
The introduction should:
- define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;
- establish your reasons – i.e. point of view – for
- reviewing the literature;
- explain the organisation – i.e. sequence – of the review;
- state the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what isn’t included. For example, if you were reviewing the literature on obesity in children you might say something like: There are a large number of studies of obesity trends in the general population. However, since the focus of this research is on obesity in children, these will not be reviewed in detail and will only be referred to as appropriate.
The middle or main body should:
- organise the literature according to common themes;
- provide insight into the relation between your chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general;
- move from a general, wider view of the literature being reviewed to the specific focus of your research.
The conclusion should:
- summarise the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
- evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed;
- identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge;
- outline areas for future study;
- link your research to existing knowledge.
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When you began looking through this book, you may have already been an accomplished researcher and writer. As a student, you may have had both research and writing experiences as an undergraduate that prepared you for your first graduate-level literature review. For most graduate students, however, many of the concepts and skills needed to successfully complete this high-stakes document will be new. And, while developing these skills is not always a linear process, the effort put into acquiring them will serve you throughout both your academic and professional life.
Here is a quick review of the main points from each of the chapters in this book:
- The purpose of a literature review is to survey the current state of knowledge in the area of inquiry; to identify key authors, articles, theories, and findings in that area; and to identify gaps in knowledge in that research area. (Chapter 1)
- Accepts another researcher’s finding as valid without evaluating methodology and data
- Neglects to consider or mention contrary findings and alternative interpretations
- Findings are not clearly related to one’s own study or findings are too general.
- Allows insufficient time to define best search strategies and writing
- Simply reports individual studies rather than synthesizing the results
- Problems with selecting and using most relevant keywords and descriptors are evident.
- Relies too heavily on secondary sources
- Does not record or report search procedures
- Summarizes rather than synthesizes (Chapter 1)
- By understanding what the literature in your field is, as well as how and when it is generated, you begin to know what is available and where to look for it. (Chapter 2)
- Most graduate-level literature reviews begin with choosing a relevant, appropriate, interesting topic and then changing it. (Chapter 3)
- Search and discovery of the literature is an iterative process. There are many places to look and many tools and techniques to use to find resources. Advanced researchers master this skill early on and refine it with each project. (Chapter 4)
- You searched the literature and found lots of relevant resources. How do you now determine whether each item is an appropriate fit for your own review? (Chapter 5)
- How will your resources be organized (alphabetically or chronologically)? By broad general theme or theory? Based on a type of methodology or population? What citation management program or software are you going to use to keep track of all your references? (Chapter 6)
- Your literature review is not a summary of all the articles you read but rather a synthesis that demonstrates a critical analysis of the papers you collected as well as your ability to integrate the results of your analysis into your own literature review. (Chapter 7)
- Like any effective argument, the literature review is about both content and form. It should have logical and smooth flow, a clear introduction and conclusion, and use a consistent citation style throughout. (Chapter 8)
Remember: Writing a good literature review takes time. Start early. Begin thinking about your topic and collect references even while you work on other tasks. Write a first draft and then revise. Go over the language, style, and form. Focus, sharpen, clarify, and search again. When you are satisfied with the result, you’re done.
How is the literature review evaluated?
It is usually judged in three main areas:
- Have you clearly indicated the scope and purpose of the review?
- Have you included a balanced coverage of what is available?
- Have you included the most recent and relevant studies?
- Have you included enough material to show the development and limitations in this area?
- Have you indicated the source of the literature by referencing accurately?
- Have you used mostly primary sources or appropriate secondary sources?
- Have you clearly (and logically) ordered and sorted the research, focusing on themes or ideas rather than the authors?
- Does the review move from broader concepts to a more specific focus?
- Is there adequate critique of research limitations, including design and methodology?
- How do the studies compare or contrast with debates or controversies highlighted?
- Is the relevance to your problem clear?
- Have you made an overall interpretation of what is available?
- Do the implications provide theoretical or empirical justification for your own research questions/hypothesis?
- Do the implications provide a rationale for your research design? (RMIT University)
Many instructors use rubrics to evaluate literature reviews. For a sample of a literature review rubric that may also serve as a checklist for evaluating your own review before submitting, see Holmlund (2019) also listed in the Additional Resources section for this chapter.
We hope that this discussion about literature reviews is useful. After reading this guide, and reviewing the additional resources and activities in each chapter, we hope you have a better understanding of the research and writing process. What conclusions have you reached regarding the content and structure of a literature review that can answer the question, “How do I write a graduate-level literature review?”
Bell, J. (2005). Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education, Health and Social Science (4th ed.). New York: Open University Press.
Booth, A., Sutton, Anthea, & Papaioannou, Diana. (2016). Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Collins, S. (2016). Professional Writing in the Health Disciplines . http://epub-fhd.athabascau.ca/professionalwriting/ CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0
Coughlan, M., & Cronin, Patricia. (2017). Doing a Literature Review in Nursing, Health and Social Care (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Fink, A. (2014). Conducting Research Literature Reviews (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Galvan, J.L. (2009). Writing Literature Reviews: A Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Glendale, CA : Pyrczak
Garrard, J. (2017). Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy: The Matrix Method . Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Holmlund, T. (2019). Sample Literature Review . Washington State University Vancouver. CC-BY-NC 4.0
Machi, L.A., & McEvoy, B.T. (2012). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Milardo, R.M. (2015). Crafting Scholarship in the Behavioral and Social Sciences: Writing, Reviewing, and Editing . New York: Routledge.
Pautasso M. (2013). Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. PLoS Computational Biology 9(7): e1003149. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149
Petticrew, M., & Roberts, H. (2006). Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Wallace, M., & Wray, A. (2016). Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
RMIT University (n.d.). Writing the literature review/Using the literature. https://www.dlsweb.rmit.edu.au/lsu/content/2_assessmenttasks/assess_pdf/PG%20lit%20review.pdf
Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
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Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
Thesis Writing in the Sciences
- Review Intros
- Review Body
- Review Conclusion
- Outline & Processes
The Conclusion of a Review Paper
Recall from the initial discussion of Review papers that these publications make two kinds of contribution: 1) an organized synthesis of the current state of an area of research according to a (novel) perspective; 2) critical commentary from the writer who eventually recommends directions for further research and/or application.
There are two ways of furnishing critical commentary.
First, critique may be provided at the end of each topical subsection . Sometimes, recommendations are also provided, especially if the Review is particularly complex.
Second, all critique/recommendations are saved for the conclusion .
Which is the best pattern? As always, consider the reader. The more complicated the reading task, the more difficult it is for the reader to absorb the writer’s message. If the topical subsections are fairly straightforward, with little controversy/conflict involved, then it’s okay to save all critique/recommendations for the end of the paper. Many published review papers save the critique until the end, in the concluding section of the paper.
Often, the topics are not so straightforward. In that case, it is easier for the reader (and also for the writer) to finish each section with the writer’s critical evaluation of the material. In this manner, each topical subsection reads like a fairly complete mini-essay; the reader can pause, grab a cup of coffee and a Snickers, and return to the review without sacrificing comprehension. Note that all critical evaluation comes at the END of a subsection . If you find yourself logically needing to provide some critique before continuing on within a particular section, then you need to create a second-level subsection (a subtopic within your main topic subsection – for the visual thinkers, these are the child nodes connections coming off a main/parent node). Keep in mind: the prime directive here is that all critical evaluation is written in a separate paragraph at the end of a section.
Example of Critique and Recommendations
How does all of this relate to the conclusion? In a review paper, the conclusion is a short, bottom-line piece of writing. First, the conclusion offers a brief summary of the main ideas of each topic subsection (generally, only a single sentence or so per MAIN subheaded section) – this is the summary function of a conclusion. (NOTE: If critique in included in the body of the paper, then you can also added a short summary of the critique. This is not required, and depends on the length and complexity of the paper; the longer and harder it is to read, the more likely the author is to include a summary of the critique in the conclusion.)
Second, assuming that critique is NOT in the body of the paper, you'll write the critique. This is an important step for the reader: they've just read your synthesis, and now would like to know what you think about all the work you've done! Much like a research report, the reader wants to know how the reviewed information impacts the field. This is what your critique helps provide.
Finally, the review conclusion ends with your recommendations based on the reviewed research and critique -- what should happen next? Be as targeted as you can here, but do not make suggestions outside the constraints of the perspective you stated in the introduction. For example, if you reviewed the efficacy of a particular activity in terms of its economic impact, you need to make recommendations related to that idea. You'll also find that recommendations for future research can be quite general and bland, e.g. "This area merits further investigation".
Thus, your conclusion will depend partly on the decisions made about critique. If critical evaluation is provided in the body of the paper, it need not be repeated in the conclusion, though it can be. If critical evaluation is not provided in the body of the paper, then it must be provided in the conclusion.
Organization of Conclusion
Situation 1: Critique and/or Recommendations in Body of paper –
Thus, the Conclusion consists of the summary + recommendations for further research.
Legend Summary of Info Summary of Critique Recommendations
Early hypotheses on DBS mechanisms proposed that stimulation inhibited neuronal activity at the site of stimulation, imitating the effects of surgical ablation. Recent studies have challenged that view and suggested that while somatic activity near the DBS electrode may be suppressed, high frequency stimulation increases and regularizes the output from the stimulated nucleus by directly activating axons of local projection neurons. It now appears that suprathreshold currents spreading into regions comprised of axonal fibers passing near or through the target structure as well as surrounding nuclei may also contribute to the beneficial effects of DBS. Together, the stimulation-induced regularization of neuronal output patterns are thought to prevent transmission of pathologic bursting and oscillatory activity within the basal ganglia thalamocortical network, thereby enabling compensatory mechanisms that facilitate normal movements. This theory, however, does not entirely explain why therapeutic latencies differ between motor symptoms and why after turning off a DBS system the reemergence of motor symptoms differs among patients. Understanding these processes on a physiological level will be critically important if we are to reach the full potential of DBS as a surgical therapy and will in turn undoubtedly lead us to technological and clinical advancements in the treatment of other neurological disorders.
Situation 2: Critique in Conclusion of Paper – there are two organizational patterns
- #1 – The first paragraph is summary, second paragraph is critique, third paragraph is recommendations (note: second paragraph is more properly understood as a functional section as you may need more than one paragraph!)
In summary, during the normal ageing process, animals experience age-related cognitive decline. Historically, it was thought that primary contributions to the aetiology of this decline were massive cell loss 1 and deterioration of dendritic branching 17, 18 . However, we now know that the changes occurring during normal ageing are more subtle and selective than was once believed. In fact, the general pattern seems to be that most age-associated behavioural impairments result from region-specific changes in dendritic morphology, cellular connectivity, Ca 2+ dysregulation, gene expression or other factors that affect plasticity and ultimately alter the network dynamics of neural ensembles that support cognition.
Of the brain regions affected by ageing, the hippocampus and the PFC seem to be particularly vulnerable, but even within and between these regions the impact of ageing on neuronal function can differ. The morphology of neurons in the PFC is more susceptible to age-related change, as these cells show a decrease in dendritic branching in rats 30, 31 and humans 32, 33 . There is also evidence of a small but significant decline in cell number in area 8A of monkeys that is correlated with working memory impairments 16 . Although there is evidence of Ca 2+ dysregulation in aged PFC neurons 65 , the functional consequences of this are not yet known. Moreover, so far, there are no reports of multiple single unit recordings in the PFC of awake behaving animals. More is known about the impact of ageing on hippocampal function. Ca 2+ dysregulation 51, 53, 54 and changes in synaptic connectivity 69, 74 might affect plasticity and gene expression, resulting in altered dynamics of hippocampal neuronal ensembles. Because more is known about the neurobiology of ageing in this brain region, there are therapeutic approaches on the horizon that might modify hippocampal neurobiology and slow age-related cognitive decline or partially restore mechanisms of plasticity. For example, agents that reduce intracellular Ca 2+ concentration following neural activity could modulate the ratio of LTD and LTP induction, thereby partially restoring normal network dynamics. Considering that the average lifespan is increasing worldwide, understanding the brain mechanisms that are responsible for age-related cognitive impairment, and finding therapeutic agents that might curb this decline, becomes increasingly important.
- #2 – Each paragraph consists of summary of a particular section, the critique for that section, then the recommendations for that section. The number and order of paragraphs parallels the number and order of main topical sections of the paper.
Legend Summary of Info Summary of Critique Recommendations Other Statements
What have these reviews indicated about the efficacy of specific CAM therapies for pain from arthritis and related diseases? First, there are a sufficient number of studies in some areas despite claims often heard about the lack of evidence for CAM. Second, research findings for some of the CAM therapies reviewed here have demonstrated consistent beneficial outcomes for patients with arthritis and related diseases . Specifically, there is moderate support for acupuncture in reducing pain as compared with sham acupuncture and limited support for acupuncture as compared with a wait list for OA of the knee . However, no claims can be made for the superiority of acupuncture across locations of OA and across comparison groups. Further, only limited support exists for the efficacy of acupuncture for FMS with the caveat that acupuncture may actually exacerbate the pain for some patients with FMS. At this point, little is known about acupuncture for patients with RA.
Homeopathy has been demonstrated to be twice as efficacious as placebo for rheumatic conditions , but the outcome was not specifically pain . Furthermore, the interventions included both simple and complex homeopathy as well as individualized and standard treatments and may not represent the system of homeopathy as practiced . More research is needed in this area.
Some herbals and nutraceuticals are also beneficial in reducing pain . Both avocado/soybean unsaponifiables and devil's claw demonstrated promising support for pain of OA with moderate support for Phytodolor and topical capsaicin. Among the herbals used for or promoted for RA, there is strong support for GLA as found, for example, in borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and blackcurrant seed oil . However, evidence is lacking for other herbals and more high quality research is needed . Research findings also support the benefits of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and SAMe in reducing pain, particularly pain related to OA of the knee . Furthermore, these treatments appear safe to use .
For another example of marked-up conclusion, see this doc .
- Sakai Wiki
- Review Paper
- Body of Review
- Annotated Bibliography
- Publishable Paper
- Poster Presentation
- Bookmarking Sites
- Annotation Sites
The job of the conclusion is, quite literally, to conclude ... or to wrap things up so the reader feels a sense of closure.
Sample Literature Review Conclusion #1. CONCLUSIONS. The purpose of this review was to view the trends in composition studies within the past.
Try to be specific about the significance of your study and have a clear idea about what or who will benefit from it. To give you some examples
In this final video Dr. Judy Maxwell discusses how to structure the conclusion to your literature review. The target audience is HDR
Conclusion · summarise the important aspects of the existing body of literature; · evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed; · identify significant
Conclusion · the main agreements and disagreements in the literature · any gaps or areas for further research · your overall perspective on the
Conclusion · The purpose of a literature review is to survey the current state of knowledge in the area of inquiry; to identify key authors, articles, theories
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance. Tip Be sure to
What are the parts of a lit review? · Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance · Connect it back to your
In a review paper, the conclusion is a short, bottom-line piece of writing. First, the conclusion offers a brief summary of the main ideas of each topic