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How to Write Literature Review for a Research Paper

How to Write Literature Review for a Research

You just got an interesting project topic and you need to begin writing on it. You are probably already aware that you should begin your writing with a literature review.

The question is, how do you go about writing it?

At this point, you may not even know what a literature review is and what should be contained in your literature review. Don’t worry, I got you covered.

A literature review is a type of article review also referred to as a narrative review. It is often the basis for research in nearly all academic fields and is mostly the first or second chapter in a project paper.

A literature review is described as a scholarly paper which often includes current knowledge concerning theoretical and methodological contributions; regarding a particular thought, idea or topic. In a more simple term, literature reviews are surveys of literature books, articles and other sources that help give a detailed insight on the theories and concepts regarding a research topic.

Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities but mostly in the sciences and social sciences. They are sometimes part of experiments and lab reports or can be written as a paper itself.

As already established, they are a collection of materials concerning a topic and thus, your personal opinion is not required. Literature reviews are a very special part of a project paper that gives the researcher a better understanding of the research topic. It is important to note that only information relevant to your research topic should be included in your literature review.

Literature reviews do not contain reports on the original experimental work thus, they are known as secondary sources. Literature reviews are often a key component in writing research project paper as part of the research that forms your project paper; it tells your readers the depth of your academic maturity. 

Types of literature review

In composing a literature review, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending on the center of your research topic or study. These approaches are referred to as the types or forms of literature reviews and they include;

  • Argumentative review
  • Integrative review
  • Historical review
  • Methodological review
  • Systematic review
  • Theoretical review 

Importance of literature review in your research writing

  • Creates a rapport with your audience: A good literature review tells your audience that you have done a proper research. The more books and articles you include in your review, the more trustworthy your audience will find your project paper.
  • Helps you avoid plagiarism: Taking time out to write a literature review helps you avoid plagiarism. In the sense that; during the process of compiling your review, you have correctly acknowledged all the sources you sorted. Thus, letting everyone know that your research topic is a tweak that rose from the initial findings of people.
  • Sharpens your research focus: Conducting a review on your project topic helps you shape your research in a direction that you might have not thought of before and also, offers different perspectives on the research topic. Thus, helping you avoid the mistakes of other researchers in that particular field.

Your literature review should be well understood and be able to tell your reader how your research topic fits with the current body of published works that you have included in your review.

It is important to establish the fact that a poorly written literature review can destroy a scientific thesis. This causes you to lose credibility to your findings, which means your project paper cannot be acknowledged in future studies and it can also make your project writing lack structure or foundation. Not presenting a proper literature review gives your audience no way to justify the position of your proposed research. That is, they do not know if you are filling an identified gap or addressing a weakness in someone else’s study. If your literature review is not comprehensive enough you would lack the grounds on which to criticize an already existing or published material.

What should be done before you begin the literature review?

  • Determine what materials are available with regards to the topic, what type of sources you would be consulting (books, journals, articles and websites. You can also decide to use all these sources to write your review) and how many of those sources should be included in your review.
  • Find out what relevant information concerning the topic has been written in those materials.
  • Identify the relationships and patterns that exist across the materials.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses those materials contain.
  • Identify the gaps in the research materials you are consulting.
  • Identify any conflicting evidence in those materials.

When you have successfully done the above, then you can begin the process of writing the review. 

Writing the review

The first thing to do as you write your literature review is to;

  • Consider the organization: What do you think would be the most effective way to present the information you have gathered? Consider the most important subtopics that should be included in your review and in what order they should be presented. Your review content should be presented sequentially as;
    • Introduction: This gives your readers, at a glance; the central theme of your literature review.
    • Body: This is the part or section of your literature review that contains your discussion of sources. Sources can be arranged thematically, methodologically or chronologically.
    • Conclusion: Your conclusion should contain or discuss what you have drawn from the review.
  • Use evidence: This is where a lot of people have problems. Every idea in the literature review is not yours therefore; you should always acknowledge the source. Except it is common knowledge, always remember to acknowledge the source. At least, cite every paragraph. For example, you can say; “studies conducted by Mill and Shaw in 1830 shows that breast cancer can be hereditary”. Doing this provides an evidence to show that your point is valid.
  • Be selective and relevant: Every point mentioned or stated in your review must be relevant to your research topic. Don’t include everything you see in the sources you are consulting. This would make your review lack focus and relevance.
  • Use quotes: This is very important in avoiding the event of plagiarism. When you have to directly lift an idea; word for word, it is important to put the idea in quotes. After putting the idea in quotes, the next and very important thing to do is to cite or acknowledge the source. For example, “An average adult female cockroach has a short life span of 12days”, Obi and Yale, 2013. I have said you should use quotes but do so in moderation. It is more professionally preferable to paraphrase and cite the sources than to always quote them directly.
  • Remain original: It is the originality of your work that separates it from other available materials on that topic and also keeps your readers interested. Yes! Your review contains other people’s idea. But, you should at all times express this idea in your own voice.
  • You can paraphrase: Instead of always quoting, paraphrase what has been written in your own voice. Find the information, read it and represent it the way you have understood it.
  • Revise: Read through your work. Ask yourself if you have represented the information in the best way possible. Check for grammatical errors and spelling errors. Make sure your references are correct. Check for places you failed to add a reference. Check to make sure that your review centers on your research project topic. Remember that your literature review serves as a building block for the argument or hypothesis in your project topic. You can decide to employ the services of a professional to help edit your work.

At the end of your literature review, your reader should be able to effortlessly decipher the relationship that exists between your research project topic and your literature review. If your reader fails to see this relationship because of your inability to make the connection then, your review has failed; both as a stand-alone piece of academic work and as a building block for your research topic.

Following the outlined steps above, you are guaranteed to not just write any literature review, but write a “proper literature review”.