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How to Do a Literature Review: Organization & Writing

Preparing to Write

What are you writing? A literature review is not a one-by-one summary of your sources, but a synthesis or integration of them all. For a literature review, you want to focus on analyzing the sources you have examined from the point of view of  your thesis/hypothesis. Keep in mind that the purpose of analyzing your reviewed sources is to convince your reader that your thesis or hypothesis is a good one.

How are you writing it? There are many ways to organize a literature review. You many want to group you sources in the form of a debate or compare and contrast, highlighting the similarities and differences between them. You could also decide to present your sources as they connect to the subtopics you establish as key to your thesis/hypothesis. Another possibility might be to discuss the sources in chronological order by their date of publication to show how a specific position or approach or concept important to your thesis/hypothesis may have come about.

On this page you will find a guide to the general structure of a literature review as well as suggestions for note-taking and outlining.

 

Parts of the Literature Review

The introduction

  • Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern.
  • Establish your reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature, i.e. testing the hypothesis of your research project against the available published research pertinent to it.
  • State trends, points of agreement and disagreement in the sources you reviewed

The body

  • Decide what organizing principle you will use to present your sources: Will you group sources by concept, by your own subtopic, by trends, by shared methodologies, by schools of thought, by chronology? 
  • Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits in your argument
  • Make sure you discuss more than one source in each section of your literature review
  • Provide the reader with strong "signal sentences at beginnings of paragraphs or "signposts" that make the overall topic of the paragraph clear 
  • End each paragraph with a reflection on what the sources reviewed show in relation to your hypothesis or research focus.

The conclusion

  • Articulate how your review of your sources sheds light on your hypothesis or research focus 
  • Point to aspects of your research focus that are not covered in depth or at all in the sources you reviewed and merit more research

-Loosely adapted from the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Outlining Your Literature Review

  1. Introduction
  • What is your topic and why is it important?
  • What is the thesis you want to establish or the proposal you want to lay out or the hypothesis you want to test?
  • What is the range of sources you reviewed (publication dates, types of articles)?
  1. Body
    1. Your own main point #1
      1. How does source #1 in relation to your main point #1?
      2. How does source #2 in relation to your main point #1 and in relation to source #1?
      3. How does source #3 in relation to your main point #1 and in relation to sources #1 & # 2?
      4. What does the research reviewed here show about your overall thesis, proposal, or hypothesis?
    2. Your own main point #2
      1. How does source #1 in relation to your main point #1?
      2. How does source #2 in relation to your main point #1 and in relation to source #1?
      3. How does source #3 in relation to your main point #1 and in relation to sources #1 & # 2?
      4. What does the research reviewed here show about your overall thesis, proposal, or hypothesis?
    3. Your own main point #3
      1. How does source #1 in relation to your main point #1?
      2. How does source #2 in relation to your main point #1 and in relation to source #1?
      3. How does source #3 in relation to your main point #1 and in relation to sources #1 & # 2?
      4. What does the research reviewed here show about your overall thesis, proposal, or hypothesis?
  2. Conclusion
  • What points or trends stood out to you most in reviewing the published research related to your topic and why?
  • How did the research you reviewed help you shape, refine, revise, strengthen, justify your thesis, proposal, hypothesis?

Taking Notes: The Organizational Synthesis Chart

Remember that the literature review is about identifying patterns of connection in the published research on an issue or question. The following note-taking tool can help you visualize those patterns better. At the same time, this tool will help you translate the research into the terms of your own research project and facilitate your in-text citation when you begin to write. See below and download above. 

For more information on how synthesis works in writing a literature review, watch this excellent short video: Synthesis for Literature Reviews by USU Libraries.