How to write a Literature Review

A literature review is an evaluative critique of the body of literature on a particular topic.  It brings the reader up to date on the range of ideas and knowledge that have been established on a topic, identifying contrasting and opposing views as well identifying any gaps in the current knowledge.

How to Write a Literature Review

Step One: Identify topic

You may be given a topic or asked to choose a topic of your own. If you choose your own topic, ensure that there is enough relevant literature to include for you to write a literature review.

Step Two: Find Relevant Texts

You may be given a number of books or articles to review or you may be expected to conduct this research yourself as part of the exercise. Identify databases that are recommended for your subject by your subject librarian, for example PubMed for Health Sciences or CINAHL for Nursing. Undertake keyword searches to find relevant books and articles. Evaluate your results. Scan read them to decide which you want to include as part of your literature review. Select a suitable number of studies depending on the length of literature review you are expected to write.

Step Three: Analyse the studies

Consider the following:

Analyze author credentials

Identify the purpose of the study: what does the study claim to prove?

Is the claim adequately supported by the evidence provided?

Is the study carried out using qualitative or quantitative research or both?

Are there any flaws in the study?

If there is a focus group is it representative of the population under study?

Is there evidence of bias?

Step Four: Writing the Review

Plan to organise the review either chronologically, thematically or methodologically. If arranging your review thematically, try to identify themes or issues that link your sources together as you read through the literature.

Most literature reviews, like essays, have an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.

Introduction: the introduction should be clear and short, providing an overview of the research topic, your reasons for writing the review, an explanation of the scope of the review, what it is you intend and do not intend including, as well as the sequence or order of the review.

Body of text: the body of the text summarises and synthesises the literature. You should summarise and synthesise material in a way that allows you not only to report, but also to compare, contrast, critically review and comment on what has been said in the literature.  In each work, the similarities, differences, strengths and weaknesses need to be identified.

Conclusion: in the conclusion you provide a summary of what exists on the topic as well as identifying the gaps.