A literature review is a comprehensive study of published sources of a specific topic. The term "literature" refers to a set of already existing information on a particular topic. It portrays logical arguments that have been presented by previous researchers.
What is the purpose of a literature review?
It provides the researcher with an easier way to get information on a particular topic by looking for the best scholarly articles
It gives the researcher a wider research area since they are forced to compare different kinds of literature
It helps the researcher avoid coming up with a replica of work that has already been done
It provides a guide to where future researches are heading to or where there are gaps, discrepancies, ambiguities, and conflicts are in literature
It clearly presents key findings of a research
It shows how researchers used different methodologies in their work
it allows the researcher to show their strengths in identifying relevant information
An interesting thing to note when it comes to how to write a literature review is that one does not need to include every existing literature review of the particular topic in their literature review because it will make the chapter too broad.
Seek for clarity from your instructor on how many sources to site, the type of sources to include (books, journals, articles), and if you should provide subheadings and history of the topic.
Find other literature reviews in your area of interest and go through them to establish what kind of theme to look for in your own research.
Narrow down to a specific topic and identify the best sources to use. This is because there are thousands of books and articles that have been written in many areas of study and therefore this should eliminate confusion and indecisiveness. It is important to limit your scope first. Tap in the knowledge of your professor and ask them questions such as: If you were to pick five books on the topic of environmental pollution, which ones would they be?"
Make sure your sources are current. For example, in sciences, and medicine to be specific, advance discoveries and solutions have been found, and some are constantly changing. One-year-old information could be useless. However, this is not necessarily applicable in humanities, history or social studies. Try to go through current literature reviews in the topic of interest and get a drift of what your discipline expects, what is currently useful to scholars and what is not.
Review APA guidelines. When it comes to writing a literature review apa, go through literature on APA guidelines and familiarize with the common APA styles such as font, margin, spacing, title page, abstract, body, text, citations, and quotations.
Find the best topic to work with. Know exactly what you need to address in the literature review and what you look forward to discovering in your research. Find out about those fertile topics that can be studied in depth. Talk to your lecturer and read recent periodicals in the field. For example, if you feel like there has not been much research done on effects of communication in relationships, you could adopt such a topic. Begin to write down terms related to the topic of research because this will come in handy in later searches.
Literature analysis. Peruse through a few articles to get a rough idea of the contents of the article. Focus could be given to the first lines of the introductory paragraph, and the conclusion. Decide on the scope of your review and how comprehensive the study should be. Highlight all the databases that you will research. Also, make sure to note down the books, journals, articles, reports, conference proceedings and web resources used. Take note of the publication date, title, authors´ names and publishers.
Literature review. Evaluate your sources to know the key terms and concepts, their relevancy to the topic of interest and the credibility of the author(s). You should also identify the similarities and differences in the various sources and also see if there are gaps in the literature that will need further study. Settle on an opening statement that will tell the readers what to expect in your literature review. This is sometimes referred to as the thesis statement. An example of literature review opening statement could be "More and more people are accepting that lack of communication between married couples has contributed to the increase in divorce cases in America."
Literature review is split into three:
The introduction - Puts emphasis on the subject matter. It discusses previous topics and identifies any disagreements within the field. It can provide the history of the topic, and it finalizes with the thesis statement. It gives a scope of the literature and what it will address.
The body - Gives a summary of existing knowledge. It highlights major findings about the research topic. If it is the first research of its kind, its purpose is to make a solid argument that will rationalize your proposed subject. The body paragraphs should have different themes addressed and should include several of the reviewed readings into each paragraph. Each body paragraph could carry themes such as the history of the problem statement, the methodologies, and previous studies done on the topic, the main questions beings asked and general conclusions that can be drawn from the readings.
The conclusion - Summarizes all accessible evidence and its significance. If it is an original work, the conclusion shows gaps in the literature that have led to your own research idea and the chosen methodology. It includes the main agreements and differences in literature and your overall stand on the subject matter, also known as the thesis restatement. For example, if the introduction was "More and more people are accepting that lack of communication between married couples has contributed to increased divorce cases in America," then the conclusion could be reaffirmed by a statement like, "Communication in married couples is a topic that has been studied widely. These studies have shown how men and women communicate differently, resulting in a better understanding on why divorces occur."
Once you get the contents of your literature review, you should create an organized way of presenting your work. Let us take an example of literature review where you have decided to focus on sperm whales. You have just completed reading the novel Moby Dick, and you wonder whether what the author wrote in the book was really true. You start reading some biological articles about sperm whales´ physiology that were written in the 1990s, and you realize that these articles cited some European biological research done on whales in the early 18th century. You proceed to look up a book that was published in 1967 with additional data on sperm whales, and a recent research carried out on whale bones or even whale-hunting.
Your work can be arranged:
Chronologically - You can include the materials above in your literature review in the order of publication. For example, you could start talking about the European biological research that was carried out in the 28th century, followed by Moby Dick which was published in 1851, then on the book on additional data on sperm whales that was published in 1967 and finally on the most recent researches done on sperms whales.
Order your sources chronologically only if they seem to bring out a significant trend. For example, on the topic of sperm whales, you could review literature that shows how the trends in biological studies of sperm whales have changed progressively.
Thematically - Thematic literature review is centered along a specific issue, rather than time progression. For example, the sperm whale literature review sample could focus on technologies in whale hunting. In as much as this can capture literature of when these practices started (chronologically), it will show that the theme "technology" is the main idea being addressed, and not the account of whale hunting.
Once you have decided on the best suited organizational method for the body paragraph, things should begin to flow.
A literature review example could be: "Several studies revealed that females were better at nonverbal communication than their male counterparts (Noller, 1980; Sabatelli et al., 1982). Still, being a communicator involves both understanding, receiving and translating messages. Women are naturally born to be more expressive than men (Noller, 1980). However, it was found out that women were not better receivers than men (Sabatelli et al., 1982; Koerner - Fitzpatrick, 2002)......"
The literature review example apa shown above tells us:
That you should use evidence to support your work to validate what you are saying.
To make use of quotes sparingly.
To summarize and paraphrase sections that are significant to the study.
To ensure that your voice, and not that of the cited sources, is the one being heard.
When paraphrasing work that isn´t your own, be careful not to change the author´s meaning or stand.
Consider the format in which your instructor has asked you to present your work in, whether in APA, MLA or Chicago formats.
After you have finished, read through your work to correct grammatical and spelling errors. Ensure that there is a flow of ideas and logic in your work. Check to ensure that no plagiarism has been done either by not citing sources or quoting directly from the source.
Avoid using emotional phrases
Do not insert your personal opinions since the review is supposed to be unbiased and objective
Do not forget to cite the sources of your literature review
Do not insert long URLs in the body of a study
Do not provide too many definitions of a concept. This will lead to confusion
Avoid citing from non-scholarly sources like newspapers and magazines which only inform and entertain the public
Following the said guidelines will help avoid common errors in literature review and help you create an excellent chapter. Always refer to your professor for further clarifications. Also, go ahead and read an example of a literature review, or several, to see how other writers approach this section.