Introduction to literature reviews


What this handout is about

This handout will explain what literature review are and offer insights into the size & construction of literature Reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

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OK. You’ve sầu got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel & a book of poetry, settle down in your chair, & get ready khổng lồ issue a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as you leaf through the pages. “Literature review” done. Right?

Wrong! The “literature” of a literature review refers to lớn any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. “Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL. And a Reviews does not necessarily mean that your reader wants you lớn give your personal opinion on whether or not you liked these sources.

What is a literature reviews, then?

A literature Review discusses published information in a particular subject area, và sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.

A literature Review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary và synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature reviews may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

But how is a literature reviews different from an academic retìm kiếm paper?

The main focus of an academic research paper is khổng lồ develop a new argument, và a retìm kiếm paper is likely to contain a literature Review as one of its parts. In a retìm kiếm paper, you use the literature as a foundation và as tư vấn for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature Reviews, however, is to lớn summarize and synthekích cỡ the arguments và ideas of others without adding new contributions.

Why vì we write literature reviews?

Literature Reviews provide you with a handy guide lớn a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature Review can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up khổng lồ date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature Đánh Giá emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature Reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to lớn most retìm kiếm papers.

Who writes these things, anyway?

Literature Đánh Giá are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment & lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature Review is written as a paper in itself.

Let’s get lớn it! What should I do before writing the literature review?


If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor:

Roughly how many sources should you include?What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?Should you summarize, synthekích cỡ, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?Should you evaluate your sources?Should you provide subheadings và other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?

Find models

Look for other literature review in your area of interest or in the discipline và read them khổng lồ get a sense of the types of themes you might want to lớn look for in your own retìm kiếm or ways to organize your final Đánh Giá. You can simply put the word “review” in your tìm kiếm engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve sầu already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.

Narrow your topic

There are hundreds or even thousands of articles và books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to lớn limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope.

Keep in mind that Libraries have sầu research guides and to databases relevant to lớn many fields of study. You can reach out khổng lồ the subject librarian for a consultation:

And don’t forget to lớn tap inkhổng lồ your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.

Consider whether your sources are current

Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according khổng lồ the lakiểm tra studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a Review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have sầu changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature Reviews in the field lớn get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method khổng lồ consider what is currently of interest lớn scholars in this field & what is not.

Strategies for writing the literature review

Find a focus

A literature Review, lượt thích a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply danh mục your sources and go inkhổng lồ detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well vì they present the material & vày they portray it according to lớn an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trkết thúc in the field? A raging debate? Piông chồng one of these themes to lớn focus the organization of your reviews.

Convey it khổng lồ your reader

A literature đánh giá may not have sầu a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you vị need khổng lồ tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:

The current trover in treatment for congestive sầu heart failure combines surgery và medicine.More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular truyền thông media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.

Consider organization

You’ve sầu got a focus, và you’ve sầu stated it clearly và directly. Now what is the most effective sầu way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your nhận xét needs khổng lồ include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your nhận xét at both a global và local level:

First, cover the basic categories

Just lượt thích most academic papers, literature review also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the toàn thân of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section lớn over the paper. The following provides a brief mô tả tìm kiếm of the content of each:

Introduction: Gives a quiông chồng idea of the topic of the literature Reviews, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.Body: Contains your discussion of sources & is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have sầu drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?

Organizing the body

Once you have sầu the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to lớn focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your Đánh Giá, consider the following scenario:

You’ve decided to lớn focus your literature nhận xét on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve sầu just finished reading Moby Dick, và you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have sầu been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used khổng lồ vì. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.

Now consider some typical ways of organizing the sources into lớn a review:

Chronological: If your Đánh Giá follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above sầu according khổng lồ when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Diông chồng, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), và finally the biology articles (1980s) và the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity aý muốn subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art & on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the Reviews loses its chronological focus.By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trkết thúc. For instance, you could order a Review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.

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By trend: A better way to lớn organize the above sources chronologically is lớn examine the sources under another trover, such as the history of whaling. Then your Review would have subsections according to lớn eras within this period. For instance, the nhận xét might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Diông xã itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.Thematic: Thematic Review of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic nhận xét. For instance, the sperm whale Review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” & a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon công nghệ.But more authentic thematic reviews tkết thúc to lớn break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic Đánh Giá of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A Review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according lớn the point made.Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above sầu in that the focusing factor usually does not have to vì with the nội dung of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be khổng lồ look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, & French art work. Or the Đánh Giá might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the reviews or the way in which these documents are discussed.Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the đánh giá, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy khổng lồ figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have sầu subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but bởi not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the toàn thân is up to lớn you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to lớn consider:

Current Situation: Information necessary lớn underst& the topic or focus of the literature review.History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary lớn understvà the literature Đánh Giá, if the body toàn thân of the literature Review is not already a chronology.Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used lớn select the sources in your literature reviews or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your Đánh Giá includes only peer-reviewed articles & journals.

Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the đánh giá sparked? How will you further your retìm kiếm as a result of the review?

Begin composing

Once you’ve sầu settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to lớn write each section. There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a sample paragraph from a literature reviews about sexism và language khổng lồ illuminate the following discussion:

However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are more likely lớn produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990). Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to lớn fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as “writer,” “pedestrian,” & “persons.” The students were asked khổng lồ describe any image they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3 men to each woman in the masculine “generic” condition và 1.5 men per woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source: Erika Falk & Jordan Mills, “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense,” Women & Language19:2).

Use evidence

In the example above, the writers refer to lớn several other sources when making their point. A literature Reviews in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.

Be selective

Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the Reviews. The type of information you choose lớn mention should relate directly khổng lồ the review’s focus, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.

Use quotes sparingly

Falk & Mills bởi not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature Đánh Giá does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short quotes here & there are okay, though, if you want khổng lồ emphaform size a point, or if what the author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk & Mills vày quote certain terms that were coined by the author, not comtháng knowledge, or taken directly from the study. But if you find yourself wanting khổng lồ put in more quotes, kiểm tra with your instructor.

Summarize và synthesize

Rethành viên khổng lồ summarize & synthekích thước your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the Review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton’s study, but then synthekích thước it by rephrasing the study’s significance và relating it lớn their own work.

Keep your own voice

While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the writer’s) should remain front và center. Notice that Falk và Mills weave sầu references lớn other sources into their own text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting & ending the paragraph with their own ideas và their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.

Use caution when paraphrasing

When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to lớn represent the author’s information or opinions accurately và in your own words. In the preceding example, Falk & Mills either directly refer in the text lớn the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own, for example, Gastil’s. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism.

Revise, revise, revise

Draft in hand? Now you’re ready to lớn revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea, because your main objective sầu is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your nhận xét again to lớn make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your review so that you’ve sầu presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be sure to lớn use terminology familiar khổng lồ your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang. Finally, double check that you’ve sầu documented your sources and formatted the review appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising và editing process, see our handout on revising drafts.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive sầu danh sách of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to lớn vị your own research to lớn find additional publications. Please bởi not use this list as a Model for the format of your own reference menu, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the Libraries citation tutorial. We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedbaông chồng.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers & Readers, 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Jones, Robert, Patriông chồng Bizzaro, và Cynthia Selfe. 1997. The Harcourt Brace Guide khổng lồ Writing in the Disciplines. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Lamb, Sandra E. 1998. How to Write It: A Complete Guide lớn Everything You’ll Ever Write. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Rosen, Leonard J., và Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook, 5th ed. New York: Longman.

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Troyka, Lynn Quittman, and Doug Hesse. năm 2016. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers, 11th ed. London: Pearson.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout & attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolimãng cầu at Chapel Hill

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