How Do I Write a Literature Review


Mar 5, 2021 7:42:24 AM

A literature review unfolds differently in different fields, but in general, it is the area within your piece of scholarly writing--be it a research essay, a journal article, or even a thesis or dissertation-- that showcases your mastery over the other scholarship in the field.


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The purpose of a literature review

How to write a literature review

Pro tip: How to avoid missing out relevant research




A literature review might be a stand-alone assignment, or it might be an important part of a Master's or PhD thesis, and a concise literature review might form part of the introduction for a research paper or article.


But why a literature review? There are a few key purposes for writing a literature review that you should be aware of:





1. Get an understanding of what has been researched about your topic in your field i.e. become knowledgeable on what you're writing about. This is especially important at the beginning of your research journey as you dive through scholarship on your topic, you'll slowly be able form a thesis statement or find a research problem you want to look into. 


2. Your critical analysis of what's been researched and discovered i.e. showing you understand what you've read by categorising it. Put another way, your literature review shows that you've taken in the research, and are able to present it to your reader in a way that shows you understand it. 


Instead of providing a summary of all the things that you have read that relate to your research, you want to group the existing research into relevant categories to show how they are related to your own line of inquiry.


3. Find the gap or supporting evidence in previous research i.e. teaching your reader how the other scholarship in your field relates to your specific topic and research agenda.


In other words, you're looking or approaching your readings with a specific lens or perspective so your interpretation of how it can be organised or categorised might be differ from the next person who has a different thesis statement or research objective but has read the same materials. 




Before you begin to write the actual literature review, you'll want to categorise or organise the scholarship you've been reading. These are four broad and common categories you can use to do this:


1. Chronological - based on when your readings were written or the timeframe they were written about. 

2. Thematic - such as geographical, language, gender etc. 

3. Methodological - based on similar or differing methodologies used.

4. Theoretical - looking at scholarship that use similar or different theories to analyse a research problem. 


Remember your literature review is your critical analysis of material so your organisation might even be a combination of one or more of the above categories. 



And if you're looking for particularly helpful ways of organising your literature review when you are in the reading and note taking stage, then we recommend this little gem that shows you how to organise your literature review in a spreadsheet.


How to begin writing your literature review




Beginning to write a literature review can be a challenge. Try using some of these sentence stems to prevent writer's block and get your thoughts and writing flowing:


  1. The scholarship in the field is shaped by…
  2. Thee research tends to fall into two camps…
  3. The research in this area tends to look like...
  4. The debates are characterised by...
  5. Historically, scholarship has focused on...


Every researcher and writer, at some point in their journey, feels uncertain about whether they've covered all the relevant research in their field. Here are a couple of tips to make sure you've covered all that you need to and avoid feeling that you've missed out on something important: 












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