how to write literature review for research paper

how to write literature review for research paper

How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper

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1. Introduction

Purpose of the literature review The purpose of the literature review is to provide a critical written account of the current state of research on a selected topic: – Identifies areas of prior scholarship – Places each source in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the specific issue, area of research, or theory under review. – Describes the relationship of each source to the others that you have selected – Identifies new ways to interpret and shed light on any gaps in previous research – Resolves conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies – Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort – Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.

The literature review is a written overview of major writings and other sources on a selected topic. Sources covered in the review may include scholarly journal articles, books, government reports, websites, etc. The literature review provides a description, summary, and evaluation of each source. It is usually presented as a distinct section of a graduate thesis or dissertation.

2. Selecting Relevant Literature

The literature review and the theoretical framework are integral components of your dissertation. They provide a rationale that justifies your choice of research question and your methodology. In conducting these critical reviews, you may find that the issue or problem you are addressing has limited academic literature. This is common – the likelihood of finding a dissertation topic that is wholly original is often impossible. During such a situation, it is not uncommon for students to alter their original research question such that the focus is now on an issue for which there is more academic literature. This is a strategic and perfectly acceptable decision, provided that the issue or problem is still clearly linked to your research question. However, when conducting your reviews you may find that the literature does not support this new focus. In that case you should revert to your original research question. If you encounter this problem at the initial stage of your dissertation, a basic rule of thumb is to begin by examining a broad range of academic literature to identify if there is a gap or gap in the research question you are seeking to address. If you find that your issue or problem is truly too specific, then conducting a literature review may have to be postponed until a later stage in your dissertation. This is not ideal, but it is better to have a defined literature review and theoretical framework, than to force a topic for which there is inadequate academic literature.

3. Analyzing and Synthesizing Literature

The easier type of synthesis is the summary. The purest form of synthesis is, in fact, a summary. The purpose of a summary is to essentially condense information to a point where it would be easy to understand for anyone who could read English at the approximate age of 12 to 15. Usually, this is done with a short overview so facts can be well understood and the topics can be put into some type of order before a chronological retelling of events can be given in a short and concise manner. A summary is good as it isn’t always easy to understand facts from detailed information, and a student without any knowledge of the topic that’s being studied can be easily misguided. A re-evaluation of the method used by all other projects can be done by comparing how easy it is to understand the summarized information. A new method can be sought out with a source from a method that is already understood at the topic at hand, and with a little research methods, a guide to the method itself can be sought to see if there are any better ways to find the information in a similar manner. A comparison of results will give a clear insight on how to answer a topic, and if the summaries tally, a synthesis has already been achieved. Step two is now only a categorization of the summarized information with examples found in the piece of information. This too is a typical categorization, and it is a good method to picking out a highlighted section. With new and old methods in the pocket, technical skills can now be planned. This type of summary is used for any type of information that is in need of a new insight, and it is the best way in which to get a clear understanding of what is actually being discussed with the least amount of time spent.

Synthesis is the re-organization of information after understanding and learning it. It is a part of a larger piece of work like a thesis in which analysis of the information is the primary goal. It involves the rearrangement of information in order to gain a new insight on information. It does not have to be a complete rewrite of the information, but it is a new way of looking at a piece of information with a specific focus on a topic to find the link between information. This is important when we consider what an actual synthesis is. Basically, it is a written summary that includes all the important information, a highlighted piece of information with a categorization of the topics of information. This sounds a lot like the process of a literature review which is well documented in the old works of Wright (2001), The guide to read (, and Categorization & analysis Lund research (2015).

4. Organizing and Writing the Literature Review

At the beginning of any paper, define your paper’s purpose so that the literature review will be anchored to a specific point of view. Go beyond “I am writing this paper in order to…” Analyze any aspect of your topic, question, or hypothesis. What is your variable? What have others said about the breadth or depth of this topic? What kind of literature (published journal articles, theses, internet resources, periodicals, etc.) will you be reviewing? Why is it important to your field and to the larger scholarly dialogue? How are you going to organize the paper? With this defined perspective, organizing the literature will be much easier. Now you are ready to begin the literature review. Arguably, the most difficult part of any research paper is linked to writing the lit review. This is the most informal part of the paper, where you can express your thoughts on the topic, and bring together the research you’ve found. Take notes as you read your articles. It can help to number these and mark them with a highlighter or keep a list on the side. These notes should be more than just a summary. Write down the thoughts and connections you have as you read. Group the articles by category. This can be a list, a mental map, or a concept map. In an outline form, write headings for each category and note the connections you see between articles. Now you are ready to write. Go by your heading. Summarize the articles concisely and clearly. Do not assume the readers will know the topic so it would help to define it. This is particularly important if you say “the research has found” or “studies have shown.” What research? What did the studies find? Of course, you should be reading articles that have found something. A literature review should not be merely a list of articles and where they can be found. All of your findings need to have a connection with your variable. A lit review is not just a summary of articles but a synthesis and analysis of research. Your thoughts will bring much more to this assignment than a study-by-study recitation. Again, this is the informal part of the paper, so feel free to bring in what you think. You might ask questions that bring more connections. You might relate to or compare the topic to something else. These notes and thoughts can all be added in a final revision of the paper at the end of this assignment.

5. Conclusion

After having a stack of relevant literature, comes the write-up. This is where the research paper builds its theoretical framework and gives sense and direction to the article. It should adequately argue the researcher’s point of view. I found tracking back and forth between articles in relation to what they say and the note comparison to be the most useful tactic employed. This avoids simple comparison of different articles, where it may just become a summary of the articles read.

Post-identification and retrieval was the evaluation phase. This is an ongoing phase throughout the whole literature review. It requires critiquing and making sense of the articles in relation to their relevance to the research being conducted. I often found myself jotting down short notes of each article to identify what the article was about and its relevance to my research. This is a useful way of categorizing literature into relevant and not-so-relevant categories and provides a good foundation for the write-up of the literature review.

The first stage involved the identification of the appropriate literature. I found this to be good practice for considering data collection in my own research. It provided insight into what sources are preferable for what I intend to find. A key consideration in my literature review research was the use of appropriate search terms. This sounds rudimentary, but I often found what I was looking for through keyword searching more than sifting through the databases themselves.

The literature review is an essential part of a research paper. It provides a theoretical framework for the paper and allows the researcher to argue their point of view using previous works as support. The literature review has been the most informative part of the research paper for me. It is where you can gain a wide range of information to further your own research.

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