If you are writing a thesis or dissertation, you will most likely have to write a literature review. Simply put, since your dissertation will draw on previous research, you need the literature review to show how your work fits in with and contributes to existing knowledge in the subject area. It is therefore an integral part of any dissertation.
A good literature review shows that you understand the subject matter. You can do this by critically assessing past research. This is vital so that your reader is clear about the purpose of your research and the theoretical basis upon which you are building your work.
The literature review also helps you to justify your research, since relating it back to past studies will provide important context. To do this effectively, you need to convince the reader of the contribution your work will make to the field.
How do I create a literature review?
The length and depth of your literature review depends on the length of your project.
If you are writing a 10-page argument paper, you may have room to include 5-6 sources to review, because you will also be establishing your argument as well, but there’s no hard equation for how many or how much.
Use your judgment and most importantly, consult your instructor about expectations.
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 organization – 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:
- organize 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:
- summarize 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.
Final Thoughts on How to Write a Literature Review
You’ve just learned how to write a literature review. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Look at each step and see how you can make the best out of it. Is this the only way to write a literature review? No. Others may talk of only 4 steps while others may say there are as many as 15 or 20 steps.
It is best to understand what sort of content goes into a well-written literature. Do not obsess about the steps discussed. That said, the steps described above guide you as you build your paper, making sure you never miss an essential element.
Here’s the main takeaway. Unlike a research paper, a literature review is not interested in adding new ideas to existing research. Instead, it summarizes, synthesizes, and organizes existing knowledge, leading to a broader understanding of a particular subject.
You may decide to follow this guideline or get from professionals who will guide you throughout the whole process of your writing!