Literature Review Instructions
What Is a Literature Review?
A literature review is a survey and a discussion of the literature in a given area of study. It is a concise overview of what has been studied, argued, and established about a topic; it is generally organized chronologically or thematically. A literature review is also written in essay format.
A literature review is not an annotated bibliography because it groups related works together and discusses trends and developments rather than focusing on one item at a time. It is also not a summary; rather, a literature review evaluates previous and current research in regards to how relevant and/or useful it is and how it relates to your own research. Therefore, a literature review is more than an annotated bibliography or a summary because you are organizing and presenting your sources in terms of their overall relationship to your problem statement.
A literature review is written to highlight specific arguments and ideas in a field of study. By highlighting these arguments, the writer attempts to show what has been studied in the field and also where there are weaknesses, gaps, or areas needing further study. The literature review must also demonstrate to the reader why the writer’s research is useful, necessary, important, and valid.
Literature reviews can have different types of audiences, so consider why and for whom you are writing your review. For example, many literature reviews are written as a chapter for a thesis or dissertation in order to support a proposal or are written in order to help the writer develop a base of knowledge in a particular business area.
Asking the following questions will assist you in sifting through your sources and organizing your literature review. Remember, your Literature Review organizes the previous research in light of what you are planning to do in your own project.
- What’s been done in this topic area to date? What are the significant discoveries, key concepts, arguments, and/or theories that scholars have put forward? Which are the important works?
- On which particular areas of the topic has previous research concentrated? Have there been developments over time? What methodologies have been used?
- Are there any gaps in the research? Are there areas that have not been looked at closely yet but should be? Are there new ways of looking at the topic?
- Are there improved methodologies for researching this subject?
- What future directions should research in this subject take?
- How will your research build on or depart from current and previous research on the topic? What contribution will your research make to the field?
How Do I Organize and Structure the Literature Review?
There are several ways to organize and structure a literature review. Two common ways are chronologically and thematically. You will be using the thematic structure in this review. In a thematic review, you will group and discuss your sources in terms of the themes or topics they cover. This method is often a stronger one organizationally, and it can also assist you in resisting the urge to summarize your sources. By grouping themes or topics of research together, you will be able to demonstrate the types of topics that are important to your research. For example, if the topic of the literature review is improving productivity in organizations, then there might be separate sections of research involving service-oriented businesses, production-oriented businesses, non-profit organizations, governmental organizations, etc. Within each section of a thematic literature review, it is important to discuss how the research relates to other studies (how is it similar or different, what other studies have been done, etc.) as well as to demonstrate how it relates to your own work. This is what the review is for; do not leave this connection out!
What is the Final Format?
As previously stated, the paper will be written in current APA format, must be a minimum of 16 pages (not including the title page, abstract, and references), and must utilize at least 15 scholarly references. The final format must include the following:
- Title page;
- Outline; you already did the outline
- Introduction (no longer than 1 page);
- Findings (a minimum of 13 pages);
- Conclusions, recommendations, and suggestions for further study (a minimum of 2 pages); and
- References that are current (less than 3 years) or important for historical background.
What is the Process?
During the first module/week, the student will choose a topic to research from the list provided by the instructor. After the topic has been chosen/provided, you will begin your project. Listed below is a recommended outline of steps that will assist you in writing a thematically organized literature review.
- Annotated bibliography: Write a brief critical synopsis of each as you read articles, books, etc. on your topic. After going through your reading list, you will have an abstract or annotation of each source you read. Later annotations are likely to include more references to other works since you will have your previous readings to compare, but, at this point, the important goal is to get accurate critical summaries of each individual work.
- Thematic organization: Write some brief paragraphs outlining your categories that state how, in general, the works in each category relate to each other, how the categories relate to each other, and how the categories relate to your overall theme. Find common themes in the works you read and organize the works into categories. Typically, each work you include in your review can fit into 1 category or sub-theme of your main theme; occasionally, a work can fit in more than 1 category (if each work you read can fit into all the categories you list, you probably need to rethink your organization).
- More reading: Due to the knowledge that you have gained in your readings, you now have a better understanding of your topic and of the literature related to it. Perhaps you have discovered specific researchers who are important to the field or research methodologies you were not aware of. Look for more literature by those authors, on those methodologies, etc. You may also be able to set aside some less relevant areas or articles that you pursued initially. Integrate the new readings into your Literature Review draft. Reorganize your themes and read more as appropriate.
- Write individual sections: For each thematic section, use your draft annotations (it is recommended to reread the articles and revise annotations, especially those you read first) to write a section that discusses the articles relevant to that theme. Rather than focusing your writing on each individual article, focus your writing on the theme of that section and show how the articles relate to each other and to the theme. Use the articles as evidence to support your critique of the theme rather than using the theme as an angle to discuss each article individually.
- Integrate sections: Now that you have the thematic sections, tie them together with an introduction, conclusion, and some additions/ revisions in the individual sections in order to demonstrate how they relate to each other and to your overall theme.
What Additional Points Must I Consider?
The following are some points to address when writing about specific works you are reviewing. In dealing with a paper/argument/theory, you need to assess it (clearly understand and state the claim) and analyze it (evaluate its reliability, usefulness, and validity). Look for the following points as you assess and analyze the readings. You do not need to state them all explicitly, but keep them in mind as you write your review:
- Be specific and be succinct. Briefly state specific findings listed in an article, specific methodologies used in a study, or other important points. Literature reviews are not the place for long quotes or an in-depth analysis of each point.
- Be selective. You are attempting to reduce a lot of information into a small space. Mention just the most important points (those most relevant to the review’s focus) in each work you review.
- Is it a current article? How old is it? Have its claims, evidence, or arguments been superseded by more recent work? If it is not current, is it important for historical background?
- What specific claims are made? Are they stated clearly?
- What support
is given for those claims?
- What evidence and what type (experimental, statistical, anecdotal, etc.) are offered? Is the evidence relevant? Sufficient?
- What arguments are given? What assumptions are made and are they warranted?
- A word of caution: It is absolutely essential that you understand your article. If you do not understand the article, do not use it. Also, do not depend on the abstract or the conclusion for a full understanding of what the article says; you can often be misled.
How Do I Find the Literature?
Just as there are many avenues for the literature to be published and disseminated, there are many avenues for searching for and finding the literature. There are, for example, a variety of general and subject-specific indexes that list citations to publications (books, articles, conference proceedings, dissertations, etc.). The Liberty University Online Student Library Services website has links to the library catalog as well as many indexes and databases in which to search for resources; it also provides you with subject guides that list resources appropriate for specific academic disciplines. When you find appropriate books, articles, etc., look in its bibliographies for other publications and also for other authors writing about the same topics. For research assistance tailored to your topic, please email the Liberty University Online Librarian.
Tips on Identifying and Organizing Your Findings
There is no way to predict what themes you will find. The themes could include definitions, topics, theories, agreements, and even disagreements in the literature. Design a descriptive code word or a few phrases to define each theme (some people even use different colored highlighters to assist them in organization). With 15 articles and 16 pages of content, you will likely have anywhere between 4–6 major themes for your Literature Review: Final. However, it is highly unlikely that each of the 15 articles that you read will contain all the themes that you have identified. Below is an example of 10 hypothetical articles with 4 hypothetical themes.
|8||A, B, C|
|9||A, B, C, D|
The chart is not very helpful except as a prelude to further organization. Your Literature Review must be written thematically, not chronologically. You will not be reviewing one article after another in your Literature Review; rather, you will be investigating the themes contained in those articles. Therefore, the organization of your articles will look similar to the following example:
|A||1, 2, 5, 8, 9|
|B||2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10|
|C||6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
|D||3, 5, 9|
You may be pondering as to which theme will go first. Ultimately, the order of the themes is your decision, but keep the thematic organization logical. The themes provide the subheadings for the content of your Literature Review; therefore, this is an efficient way to organize and write your paper.