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Let’s start with a brief definition. Literature reviews are aimed to summarize some sources and provide necessary information about a topic. There are two common types of literature reviews that students need to write when studying at university. The first type of literature review is often assigned as a separate paper within the research process. Another type serves as a part of a bigger work, being either an introduction or a part of the preparation process.
The type of the review determines the author’s perspective and subtopics that you will focus on. If you want to better understand differences between various types of literature reviews, we suggest reading first chapters of dissertations and theses, noting what arguments and approaches are used.
Purposes of the Review
- It sets up the starting point for a research by summarizing, comparing, and evaluating existing sources in the area of interest.
- It helps understand the direction of the further research and areas worth focusing on.
- It provides access to the most important information on a certain topic by picking out sources that are valid, meaningful, and relevant, summarizing them and turning them into a single concise report.
- It helps researchers not to duplicate work that has been done before.
- It provides a detailed analysis of methods used in other researches.
- It identifies gaps and contradictions in existing sources.
- It highlights most important findings.
Just as other assignments, literature reviews imply creating a certain structure. Let’s take a closer look at it.
An introduction is the first part of the review that explains why the subject is important and sets the focus for your further work. It provides a list of works published about this topic and points to any controversies present in this field. This part also provides a background or history of the topic. At the end of the introduction, you must make a thesis statement or explain a purpose of a bigger work, in case it’s a part of a thesis. If it’s an independent assignment, your thesis statement will evaluate sources in this field.
A body is a central part of a literature review, which often consists of several subheadings. It summarizes the current knowledge of the subject and highlights its crucial features, pointing out its main issues, such as recent findings, trends, etc. If your paper is an introductory part of a thesis, it must be focused on a central argument that supports the idea of your research. In this case, it describes only things that are directly related to your bigger project.
A conclusion of a literature review is aimed to provide a brief summary of used evidence and explain why it is essential. In case of a thesis paper, it focuses on gaps that you found in considered sources and explains a relationship between them and your own research. If you’re working on a separate assignment, we suggest you focusing on recommendations for new researches.
- Find a proper topic
Think about the subject of your study and choose a specific issue that is most interesting to you.
- Review the literature
Work with databases, search for sources using keywords. Check reference lists, as this method allows you to find more articles and books related to your field. Don’t be focused on your own opinion only — you need to provide another perspective as well, in order to increase the credibility of your own work.
- Read the selected sources and evaluate them
Evaluate research findings and summarize experts’ opinions. Pay your attention to conflicting ideas, methodologies, and theories. Think about why authors have chosen a particular method and how they came to their conclusions. Evaluate different theories in terms of popularity and think of how they’ve changed over time.
- Develop your thesis
Write your thesis statement. Make it one-two sentences long. Your thesis statement must reflect conclusions you have reached about the most important issues and trends.
- Organize your paper
You need to create an easy-to-read structure of headings and subheadings. If your literature review is long, you can prepare a board and stick post-it notes on it, organizing main elements of your paper in a logical order.
- Look at what you’ve written
Don’t start reading the entire work. First, take a look at the topic sentences of every paragraph. Do these sentences demonstrate a logical flow of your thoughts? Can you see the understand of your paper? If you see that every paragraph starts with the name of some researcher, it may mean that you’re focused on a simple description of sources instead of analyzing and evaluating them. This is one of the most common problems, so make sure you don’t make such a mistake.