It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods , and gaps in the existing research. Writing a literature review involves finding relevant publications such as books and journal articles , critically analyzing them, and explaining what you found. There are five key steps:. Table of contents Why write a literature review? When you write a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge.
The literature review gives you a chance to:. You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic. The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps.
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic. If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions. If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data.
You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications. Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search. Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:. Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question.
When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources. To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.
Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words and awkward phrasing. See editing example. Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar — a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review. The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time.
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review. It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism. It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
Want to check your literature review for plagiarism? Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:. This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and if applicable show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically.
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:. A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework. Method 2 — University Database Scrounging Generally, universities provide students with access to an online library, which provides access to many but not all of the major journals.
Need a helping hand? This will make it easy for you to search for titles with certain words, order research by date, or group by author. Context — Note the socioeconomic context in which the research was undertaken.
For example: US-based, respondents aged , lower- income, etc. This will be useful for making an argument about gaps in the research. Methodology — Note which methodology was used and why. Also note any issues you feel arise due to the methodology. Again, you can use this to make an argument about gaps in the research. Quotations — Note down any quoteworthy lines you feel might be useful later.
Notes — Make notes about anything not already covered. For example, linkages to or disagreements with other theories, questions raised but unanswered, shortcomings or limitations, and so forth. Some important questions to ask yourself are: What answers does the existing research provide to my own research questions? Which points do the researchers agree and disagree on? How has the research developed over time? Where do the gaps in the current research lie?
Step 3: Outline and write it up! There are two steps here — outlining and writing: 3. Then, tighten it up and send it off to your supervisor for comment. Make sure you understand the 4 core functions of the process. The first step is to hunt down the relevant literature. You can do this using Google Scholar, your university database, the snowballing technique and by reviewing other dissertations and theses. Next, you need to log all the articles in your reference manager , build your own catalogue of literature and synthesise all the research.
Following that, you need to develop a detailed outline of your entire chapter — the more detail the better. Remember, done beats perfect. Then tighten it up and submit to your supervisor. Phindile Mpetshwa on November 17, at pm. Thank you very much.
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