How to write a literature review is a complex and challenging task. Reading hundreds of documents is not an easy job. As it requires extensive study of a large number of documents in a certain discipline, this study gives you direction and becomes the base for your complete research projects.
Whether it’s writing a research paper, thesis, and dissertation, the researcher needs a strong base and grip over the subject.
Literature review is not just reading and documenting the materials, but a process if organized properly can make it simple and easy to carry on. This article will describe how to write a literature review, literature review examples and guide on how to organize your sources.
What is Literature Review?
Review, as its name indicates, is viewing again the existing literature to understand a specific topic. A kind of academic paper that is made by sorting, analyzing and comprehensively refining a large number of documents. It tells us:
- What has already been researched in this field
- What is other’s opinion
These are important things to know because the purpose of literature review is to add value to existing knowledge and not just replicating the things that have already been said by others. Existing knowledge can be found on various online platforms.
These platforms could be online websites, journal articles, online books, newspapers or anything related to your area of research. Also, what era of information you need from these platforms is also important.
Let’s start with a literature review example, suppose I am a business researcher and I am interested in the use of AI (artificial intelligence) in business. I will look into business and technology journal articles, and the latest news regarding the market in news articles and newspapers.
As my topic is regarding business and technology, I would reply to the latest trends and information. Because information about technology is obsolete really fast. Similarly, any other topic regarding humanities or history, the focus would be a series of events or related facts instead of latest trends.
What is the importance of good literature review?
A good literature review is important because of the following reasons:
- Gives you a direction, a roadmap, which you can say “a big picture” of your research.
- Define your research question and narrow it down as far as possible. This way you know what exactly to look for to answer your research question.
- Finds a research gap and also makes you aware with the existing theories and frameworks.
- Tell you other’s opinion, what other authors have already researched about your topic.
- Answer the question “what significance role your research is playing and why is it important for others”
The time it takes to conduct a good review depends on the length and topic of your work. As it has to be systematically designed and clearly mention all the concerns for which research was undertaken. As a rule, you should plan for 4 to 6 weeks. Try to complete reviewing documents within this time.
Types of Literature Review
- Argumentative summary
This form selectively examines the literature to support or refute arguments, deep-rooted assumptions, or logical questions that have been established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a documentation system for the establishment of contradictory views.
- Integrated review
It is considered to be a research form that reviews, criticizes and synthesizes representative literature on the subject in an integrated manner, thereby generating a new framework and viewpoints on the subject. This is the most common form of comment in the social sciences.
- Historical review
The focus of historical literature reviews is to examine research over a period of time, usually starting from the first problems, concepts, theories, and phenomena that appear in the literature, and then tracing its evolution within the academic scope of the subject. The purpose is to place the research in a historical context to show familiarity with the latest technological developments and to determine the possible direction of future research.
- Methodological review
How do researchers use a wide range of knowledge from conceptual levels to actual documents in order to consider empirical and epistemological considerations, quantitative and It is used for field work in the fields of qualitative integration, sampling, interview, data collection and data analysis. This method helps to highlight reasonable issues that researchers should pay attention to and consider in the learning process.
- Systematic review
This type includes an overview of the existing evidence related to a clearly defined research question and critically evaluate relevant research, collect, report, and analyze data from the research to summarize all research involved in the research question.
- Theoretical Summary
A review of theoretical literature is helpful for establishing existing theories, clarifying the relationship between them, thinking about the degree of research on existing theories, and establishing new hypotheses for testing.
How to Write a Literature Review?
You have often heard, select a topic in which you are interested. Let me tell you only having an interest is not enough. Your topic should make a significant difference as well. Before start writing, make sure you answer the following question:
What is the significant role of your research? Why should it be read by others? Maybe, the area of your research does not need to be researched because it does not make any significant difference. People read and verify research which influences the related field.
There are few steps which need to be taken for writing a good research paper.
Search relevant literature
The first step is to start your search by defining the topic that you have selected. Make sure that the data you gather is relevant to your research question/problem. One way to gather data is the use of multiple keywords. Keywords describe briefly and precisely the essential content of your research.
Let’s refer to the literature review example mentioned above. For research in the use of AI in business, one needs to use different possible keywords to cover the topic. Keywords could be AI and business, AI impact on organization, AI and business decision making etc.
You can find your data on different academic databases. I,e google scholar, is the most popular one. Others are EBSCO, JSTOR and one’s own institutional library is an authentic source available.
Thousands of articles are available on these databases and it is neither possible nor needed to read every article that appears as a result of your keyword. So read the most relevant article’s abstract only and decide if it answers your research question.
Analyze and select sources
Once you have a list of articles gathered as a result of relevant keywords. it is not necessary to read every text found in detail, because that costs time. Instead, look at the outline first, then read through the abstract, introduction, and conclusion. Does this text fit your research interests? Then you can take a closer look at it.
Make sure you check the publication date of the article according to the scope of your research. For example, topics related to technology need the most relevant trends and you are most likely to review articles that have been recently published.
Similarly, for the topics related to history or humanities, selection of articles depends on a series of events or supportive material regardless of date or year.
Identify the interrelationships between the documents, and build your own ideas and connect them. This focuses on the relationship between existing documents and current research or the thesis.
Scanning through different studies you would be able to track the patterns that have been frequently used by other authors. What theories and models have they developed over time and how does it differ from yours?
You might find conflicting arguments among sources and come up with an area that has been ignored or has little knowledge. This is how you find a research gap. This type of information helps you carry on your research in the most systematic way by contributing to the existing knowledge.
Decide The Structure
It is the easiest way to write a literature review according to the time of the topic. However, there is a problem to pay attention to when using this method, that is, to simply list and summarize the literature.
So, try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that affect the entire field. Then explain how and why these points occurred.
Thematic (according to the theme)
If you find a recurring central theme while collecting the literature, you choose to organize your literature review according to the theme. You can summarize different aspects of this topic. For example, if your essay is about immigration, you may be concerned about immigration policies, language barriers, and cultural conflicts.
Methodological (according to methodology)
If your research is to compare different research methods, it may cause similarities and differences between results and conclusions. Then you choose to do a literature review in accordance with the methodology structure.
For example, on the same issue, what are the similarities and differences between the results of qualitative research and quantitative research? Also, for a question, how do empirical study and theoretical study respectively explore?
Theoretical (according to theory)
Literature review is usually the foundation for a theoretical framework of research. It can be used to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. During the discussion, you may argue about the relevance of certain theories or combine different theoretical concepts to establish a theoretical framework for your research.
Write your Literature Review
Literature review introduction
This is the first paragraph of your research paper which states the objective and purpose of your topic. You shed some light on the existing situation and background information. You describe what significance value your research is going to add in it and support your arguments with previous studies.
You mention the research gap and methodologies how you carried on your research. And in the last few lines you mention the results that you derived from reading existing knowledge.
Literature review body
The body can be written in any way and there is no fixed format. It can be summarized in any structural approach. Just keep in mind few things:
- You are not just rephrasing the work of previous authors. Give your opinions on the basis of your findings.
- Validate and support your opinion by referencing other’s studies.
- Mention the significance of your research and show how you filled the gap.
- Explain the methodologies used and frameworks already used.
- Tell the strength and weakness of your research.
Literature review conclusion
In conclusion you do not go too much into detail. It is the key summary of your research in clear and simple words. In conclusion you prove your argument in support of your research problem/question, Research limitations and future research directions are given in conclusion.
Edit and proofread
Editing and proofreading is very important as it ensures that you do not miss out on anything. Make sure you have checked all grammatical mistakes, punctuation and inconsistent text. Good editing and proofreading increase clarity and readability of the document.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- The literature review does not match the research question
- The collection of literature is incomplete and lack of necessary literature
- List the documents simply, “comprehensive” instead of “description”
- Personal opinions dominate the literature review
- Literature review lacks authority
Although, writing literature review is challenging, time consuming and a hard process. It is not something which is readily available on google, you need to have good reading, writing and organizing skills to develop your own original paper.
This step-by-step guide is designed to help students learn how to write a literature review given easy literature review examples.