Writing a Literature Review

In many academic areas but especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences, writing a literature review is a common scholarly activity. Perhaps you are more familiar with a book review; however, it is not the same as a literature review. A book review is a summary and/or analysis of a single piece of literature (book). A literature review is also a summary and analysis, but involves a number of academic reading materials (and not just books) such as articles (from journals, magazines, newspapers), theses, and dissertations among others.

Because writing a literature review involves these types of materials, it is expected that it will require more sophisticated reading and writing skills from you, such as your ability to summarize and paraphrase longer and varied texts, compare and contrast texts, interpret, evaluate, and contextualize findings reported in research articles, and classify and identify themes found among texts.

Another important concept to remember is that unlike a critique paper and a position paper, which have been previously discussed, a literature review does not focus on your personal opinion on the topic being discussed. Although you are tasked to identify themes and patterns and to evaluate ideas presented in texts, and propose a different way of looking at the topic, you should remain objective in developing your main points in your review.

Planning to Write a Literature Review

1 . Choose a manageable topic or focus

It is almost impossible to work on a topic like personality. You have to do some initial research and reading to find a more specific, narrow topic like personality disorders or even to a much more specific anti-social personality disorder. Even the last one could still be narrowed depending on your interest and the requirements set by your teacher. Remember that doing a school requirement such as writing a literature review is always done with limited time.

2. Have a working thesis statement

As you do your initial reading of some sources to find a focus, you should also think of a working thesis statement. It is your focus stated in one-to-two sentences. There is a need for better treatments to be made available for anti-social personality disorder that will complement medication given to an individual with ASP is an example of a working thesis statement. Since it is still a working thesis statement, you may modify it later to fit your specific intention in your paper.

3. Search for credible materials

Like what you did when you wrote your critique and position papers, you should look for related and credible sources. Evaluate well the evidences presented in each material.

Consider too the objectivity of the authors in presenting their ideas and findings, and make sure that the material will contribute to the main goal of your own literature review paper. Get your teacher’s approval before doing any close reading of any text.

4. Do note-taking

Use the same graphic organizer presented in the previous lesson for this purpose.

5. Do a tentative outline

After taking notes from your initial references, draft a tentative outline that will show how you plan to organize all the ideas you have so for. There are a number of ways to arrange your notes: chronological (beginning with the earliest), thematic (based on the relatedness or recurrence of ideas/points), or methodological (based on the method/s used in the papers being reviewed). Your outline may be modified as you continue reading and evaluating the texts.

Evaluation of a Literature Review Outline

  • Are the main points/ideas clearly identified?
  • Are the points/ideas arranged logically?
  • Are there substantial details/support for each main point?
  • Does the paper present clear evaluative and critical comments about the texts read?