How to write a literature review.

University of Houston-Clear Lake
Writing Center
Established in 1993
Writing A Successful Literature Review
 To write the successful Literature Review
 Understand the purpose of the literature review.
 Use a logical structure.
 Keep track of sources.
 Avoid common problem.
 To summarize effectively
 Read actively.
 Write strong transitions.
 Use active verbs.
 To cite using APA-Style documentation
 Always use the official manual.
 When in doubt, look it up.
 Use original sources whenever possible.
The Purpose of the Literature Review
 To explain the historical background of a topic
- To synthesize the available research
 To note areas of disagreement
 To highlight gaps in the existing research
 To justify the topic you plan to investigate
Structuring the Literature Review
An effective Literature Review will be organized according to
your topic and the themes and problems identified by the
research in the field. In general, try to do the following:
 Provide context by defining or introducing the problem/issue to
be discussed.
 Identify trends in publications, problems in research,
conflicting theories.
 Establish your purpose in reviewing the literature.
 Group studies according to commonalities– approach,
attitude, findings.
 Summarize individual studies.
 Evaluate the current body of knowledge.
 Conclude by explaining how your study will add to the body of
Keeping Track of Sources
 Number each source and keep full bibliographic information.
 Take notes as you read. You can do this on the computer or
in a large notebook, but be sure to give yourself plenty of
 Type up and save quotes you like with full documentation.
These can be cut and pasted into your main document.
 Try a preformatted source sheet. (See handout)
 Use a program like Endnote to take notes and keep
bibliographic information.
 Synthesize notes by keeping a separate sheet that
organizes sources by issue/argument.
Problems with Literature Reviews
Try to avoid the following mistakes writers sometimes
make when writing the lit review:
 Including every source, regardless of its value or pertinence to
your topic.
 Summarizing without relating the source to your topic or the view
you are creating of the body of research. Remember that the
literature review is an argumentative piece.
 Organizing the discussion in an ineffective manner: for example,
chronologically instead of by specific issue or school of thought.
 Losing track of sources and spending valuable time searching for
Critiquing the Literature
As you read the relevant research in the field, evaluate it by
asking the following questions:
 Has the author clearly defined the problem/issue?
 Could the problem have been approached more effectively
from a different perspective?
 Does the author show bias?
 What is the author’s theoretical approach?
 How good is the study design?
 How valid are the results?
 Are there flaws in the logic of the discussion?
 How does the work contribute to the discipline’s understanding
of the problem?
 What problems has the author avoided or ignored?
Writing an Effective Summary
▪ Use your own words to express the main idea and relevant details
of the piece you have read.
 Give a condensed version of the original reading.
 Demonstrate your understanding of the original text.
 Organize your review in the manner the best suits your purpose.
 Remember that some concepts and terms cannot be summarized:
Piaget’s Concrete Operations cannot be summarized as “Asphalt
Reading Actively
 Read the original text quickly to assess its value and get an
impression of its main point.
 Read the text more slowly a second time, highlighting important
 Write an informal account of what you have read.
 Rewrite your account using more formal language.
 Compare your draft to the original to be sure you have not used the
author’s language and that you have represented the author’s ideas
accurately and fairly.
Writing Meaningful Transitions
The summary presents information to the reader in an order determined
by the purpose of your research project. Use transitions to show the
reader how you are arranging the parts of the review.
 One of the first researchers to investigate this problem is Chen . . .
 Smith and Jones counter Chen’s argument . . .
 The issue becomes more complex when a third school of thought is
considered . . .
 One researcher who agrees with Chen is . . .
 A different approach to this question looks at problems in y
 One of the most troublesome problems is addressed by Green . . .
 A problem with this approach is that . . .
 A recent study adds this to the mix . . .
 A crucial issue that has not been addressed is z . . .
Using Active Verbs
Author is
points out
Using APA-Style Documentation
 Name the author (last name only) and provide the date as you summarize:
“Smith (2005) argued that x was always true, while Jones (2007) has
demonstrated through his research that it is not.”
 If your citation does not appear in your text, place it in parentheses at the
end of the relevant sentence: “Neither of these views is true, however, as
has been amply demonstrated by more recent research” (e.g., Black, 2007;
White, 2008).
 To add a reference to an additional text, cite the primary and then give your
reader a cue: (Clark, 2007; see also Diepenbrock, 2008).
Using APA-Style Documentation
 If the article has more than four authors, use all names in the first reference
and then et al. for subsequent references.
 If the article has six or more, use the primary author’s name and et al.
 If an article does not have an author, cite the title of the text using quotation
marks or italics as appropriate.
 If the article has no page or date, use n.p. or n.d.
 For each new paragraph begin citations again.
Clark, I. L. (2007). Writing the successful thesis and dissertation:
Entering the conversation. N. J.: Prentice Hall.
Columbia University Writing Center. (2008). Writing summaries.
Retrieved July 1, 2008 from
Taylor, D. and Procter, M. (2008). The literature review: A few tips on
conducting it. Retrieved June 24, 2008 from
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center. Review of
literature. Retrieved June 24, 2008 from
University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz. How to write a
literature review. Retrieved June 24, 2008 from
Additional Sources
Biklen, S. K. and Casella, R. (2007). A practical guide to the
qualitative dissertation. N.Y.: Teachers College Press.
Bolker, J. (1998). Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day: A
guide to starting, revising, and finishing your doctoral thesis. N. Y.:
Cooper, H. (1998). Synthesizing research: A guide for literature
reviews. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Galvan, J. L. (2003). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of
the social and behavioral sciences. Los Angeles: Pyrczak
Thomas, R. M. and Brubaker, D.L. (2007). Theses and dissertations: A
guide to planning, research, and writing. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Corwin Press.
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