If you’ve never heard of a literature review, don’t fret!
It’s a very common assignment and all students must do their first one at some point. A literature review is basically a statement on where the field that you’re researching at the time stands.
This assignment requires exploring main publications within a field and summarizing those arguments in a clear and concise part of your paper. It’s time-consuming and honestly, exhausting.
However, once you know what you’re doing, it gets easier.
How To Organize Literature Reviews?
Literature reviews include a summary of main sources. However, in the social sciences, literature reviews have a structuring pattern.
It combines a summary and synthesis, often within certain conceptual categories. A summary represents a recap of the crucial details of the source whereas synthesis is a reshuffling of that information in a way that explains how you’re planning to explore a research issue.
Below, I will break down the organizational process of a literature review into 3 main parts. So, without any further ado, let’s get started.
Part 1: Evaluate your sources
Evaluating your sources plays a very important part in your literature review. You must gather data from reliable and trustworthy sources, so keep that in mind before moving forward.
Find the most recent sources in the field
Generally, a literature review must be recent, so your reader knows the current condition of the field, so finding the most recent sources in the field plays a key part of the whole process.
The best source for up-to-date and classic work is your library search engine. If your subject is the effect of hiring or racism, give general keywords such ad “discrimination”, “employment”, “racism”, “the US” a try. The librarians in your library can also help, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.
Keep in mind that recent publications aren’t necessarily more reliable or better than older ones. But it’s crucial to locate fresh and recent sources in the field, so your review is up-to-date.
Establish the main point of each source you explore
Usually, sources you will be exploring for your literature review will establish a point or perspective, thus establishing the main argument of each source you find is a part of both your research and review. Make sure you take notes as you’re making your own research.
Additionally, try to summarize each argument as clearly as possible. If possible, state the writer’s point of view in a single sentence. Typically, you won’t have to go through the entire source to establish the main point. Most authors state their key points at the start.
Critique the sources and examples used by the author
It’s called a review for a reason. You can just quote other authors’ arguments. You should evaluate their points from your critical point of view and state your doubts. Throw a closer glance at all the evidence or sources used to establish the strength and relevance of the argument.
Then, when writing your literature review, state how the sources and evidence help or do damage to the author’s points. For instance, you could easily evaluate a source on a certain topic by looking at the main evidence. One source might utilize newspaper data which isn’t always reliable.
Other sources might include statistics and official studies. So, they’re more trustworthy. Some sources used can be easily found. So, you can do a literature review search and include links or clear citations if possible. If you can’t locate any source at all, then their argument isn’t trustworthy.
Explore the bias point of view of the author, if any
Exploring the bias point of view of the author can reveal if the work is useful or not. Why? Well, a biased writer might overstate their opinions, beliefs, and conclusions.
They could also leave out evidence that supports the other side of the argument just to make someone look better. This all damages the author’s arguments and conclusions.
Therefore, note anything you notice in your review. For instance, if you’re researching music in the 20th century, a musician might state that they had a big impact at the time.
However, the fact that the author was a musician at the same time could make their argument biased so keep that in mind. A biased source isn’t necessarily harmful or useless.
But it’s something that you should definitely take notes of in your literature review to prove that you’ve done your due diligence at checking all the evidence carefully.
Summarize each source for a simpler workflow
When you’re done exploring your sources, summarize what you’ve learned. This way, you will provide a quick brief while you’re writing your review and won’t have to go back to your notes. Thus, take notes as you’re exploring and summarize each author’s bias, sources, etc.
Organize all your sources into categories
When you go through all of your evidence and sources, you will likely spot different patterns or themes.
Identify these themes and organize your sources into categories before proceeding. Some authors might disagree with other authors on different points, so categorize their main statements.
Part 2: Organize your review
It’s time to organize your review before you take the final step and complete it. The next points can help you organize your review so that you can write it down with ease and finish it in no time.
Use the standard essay format
A literature review isn’t a list, a regular article, or a quick summary. It’s a formal essay on a large subject. Meaning, it includes an intro, body, and final verdict like any other formal essay. Therefore, plan to write your literature review in this format to obtain full credit.
Place the review between the intro and body of your paper
The literature review is a whole section that should be positioned right after the intro for your research paper. That way, the reader will know where the field stands at the moment. The position of the review also sets up the intervention that you will make with your paper.
Therefore, unless advised otherwise by your professor, place the review right after the intro and before the beginning of your key paragraphs. You can use headings like “Literature review”, “Introduction”, and “Conclusion” or “Final Verdict” to keep yourself more organized.
Write a chronological review if you want to display change over time
You can structure your literature review differently. For instance, chronological structure works best for showing change over time.
It’s a great way to display how coverage of a subject altered over time. Thus, it’s suitable for sociology, history, and other social sciences where changes occurred over time.
If the field is divided, break down the literature review by theme
As I already stated, you can structure your literature review in different manners. Therefore, sometimes a methodological or thematic review works better for certain topics.
You can break down your review by theme for scientific and medical topics since there’s usually a bunch of disagreements. For instance, you can take different approaches to the treatment of cancer and utilize different sections for different treatments and explain different solutions.
You could still structure your literature review chronologically within a methodological organization. For example, when you switch to a new theme, you can introduce the dates.
Other academic research paper can give you ideas
If you’re experiencing writer’s block or just can’t come up with ideas on how to write down questions, you can always check other academic articles for ideas. You can also analyze other systematic reviews or long articles that take a deeper look at all the relevant factors in a subject.
Part 3: Write your review
Start your review with a broad and clear statement about where the literature stands. Your review must have a good introduction with a thesis statement just like any other formal essay.
Generally, your task with a literature review is clarifying where the field you’re researching stands at the moment. Use your source summaries and research to craft a general statement about the literature, as your thesis. Begin your review with a couple of sentences summarizing everything crucial.
Your first statement doesn’t have to display agreement with the subject you’re exploring. It’s totally fine to express your opinion but also mention other key parts of the story as you go on!
Organize your main paragraphs around the themes that you established
After your introduction, proceed with your main paragraphs. Organize your paragraphs according to the categories and themes that you already established while exploring your sources.
That way, you will keep your lit review clean and well-organized so anyone who reads it can follow your point of view and arguments. You can break down the main paragraphs by decades if you’re organizing your paper chronologically. The first one could state how a problem was addressed in the 60s.
Then, your second paragraph could discuss how they discussed the same issue in the 70s, and so on. You can also use this structure if you’re writing a thematic review.
Provide vital information about each evidence and source in your review
When you talk about each piece of evidence and source, make sure whoever reads your review can have a clear picture of the authors’ point of view and main arguments.
Furthermore, state the main idea for each source when you insert it in your review. Finally, explain some of the specific evidence that they utilized to support their arguments.
Keep in mind that you should paint a picture of how their arguments fit in your main perspective as well. If it’s a cloudy representation, you might lose credibility and points.
Critique every perspective to point out both the positive and negative side
Noone’s work is flawless. Meaning, you shouldn’t blindly accept what each writer claims in their articles. It’s very important that you express your own opinions on the subject.
Clearly state when someone makes a good point and when they’re missing the point or leaving stuff out. For instance, if someone concludes that racism doesn’t play a major part in employment discrimination, you could state that they ignore systemic racism and make other points.
Additionally, don’t over criticize the authors and stay fair because they’ve probably researched the topic as well. And although you disagree, it’s not fair to say they’re 100% wrong.
Complete your literature review with a few questions for further research
You can’t just cover everything associated with the topic in your literature review, so it’s completely fine to leave some uncertainty as you come to the end of your review.
End your lit review with some unanswered questions or state some shortcomings that require more research. That way, you leave a good impression of someone who engaged with the topic.
You can also state suggestions despite what your review shows. If the literature is divided, you could say that you need more research to come up with a conclusion or solution for certain disagreements. And if the literature is united, you could say that other views could open new questions.
Finally, if your literature review is a part of a bigger research paper, you can end your own by explaining how your own research provides solutions to some of the problems.
Don’t exceed the length that your professor has suggested for the review
Last but certainly not least, I want to remind you that you should stick with the length recommended by your professor. Usually, there’s no strict length for literature reviews.
In most cases, the length of the paper depends on the assignment. Typically, a literature review makes a small portion of the overall research, so try to keep things short and concise.
When in doubt about the length of your lit review, consult your professor for directions. In my opinion, a paper that’s 10-20 pages long should have a literature review of a few pages.
Stay under 3 pages unless your professor requires otherwise. Do you have any experience with literature reviews? If so, drop a comment, and let’s keep the discussion below!