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Literature Reviews

The literature review, whether embedded in an introduction or standing as an independent section, is often one of the most difficult sections to compose in academic writing. A literature review requires the writer to perform extensive research on published work in one’s field in order to explain how one’s own work fits into the larger conversation regarding a particular topic. This task requires the writer to spend time reading, managing, and conveying information; the complexity of literature reviews can make this section one of the most challenging parts of writing about one’s research. This handout will provide some strategies for revising literature reviews.

Organizing Literature Reviews

Because literature reviews convey so much information in a condensed space, it is crucial to organize your review in a way that helps readers make sense of the studies you are reporting on. Two common approaches to literature reviews are chronological—ordering studies from oldest to most recent—and topical—grouping studies by subject or theme. Along with deliberately choosing an overarching structure that fits the writer’s topic, the writer should assist readers by using headings, incorporating brief summaries throughout the review, and using language that explicitly names the scope of particular studies within the field of inquiry, the studies under review, and the domain of the writer’s own research. When revising your own literature review, or a peer’s, it may be helpful to ask yourself the some of the following questions:

Questions for Revision

1) Is the literature review organized chronologically or by topic? Is the writer clear about which approach is being used in the review?
2) Does the writer use headings or paragraph breaks to show distinctions in the groups of studies under consideration?
3) Does the writer explain why certain groups of studies (or individual studies) are being reviewed by drawing a clear connection to his or her topic?
4) Does the writer make clear which of the studies described are most important?
5) Does the writer cover all important areas of research related to his or her topic?
6) Does the writer use transitions and summaries to move from one study or set of studies to the next?
7) By the end of the literature review, is it clear why the current research is necessary?

Showing the Gaps

The primary purpose of the literature review is to demonstrate why the author’s study is necessary. Depending on the writer’s field, it may or may not be clear that research on a particular topic is necessary for advancing knowledge. As the writer composes the literature review, he or she must construct an argument of sorts to establish the necessity of his or her research. Therefore, one of the key tasks for writers is to establish where gaps in current research lie. The writer must show what has been overlooked, understudied, or misjudged by previous studies in order to create space for the new research within an area of academic or scientific inquiry.

Questions for Revision

1) Does the review mentions flaws, gaps, or shortcomings of specific studies or groups of studies?
2) Does the author point out areas that have not yet been researched or have not yet been researched sufficiently?
3) Does the review demonstrate a change over time or recent developments that make the author’s research relevant now?
4) Does the author discuss research methods used to study this topic and/or related topics?
5) Does the author clearly state why his or her research is necessary?
Works Consulted

Galvan, Jose L. Writing Literature Reviews: A Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Los Angeles: Pyrczak Publishing, 1999. Print.