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WRI 101-01 (Webb, Spring 2022): Researching and building a literature review

Literature review formatting

Literature reviews are prose documents. In other words, they're not lists of articles you've read and reviewed, or even annotated bibliographies. A literature review will have a well-defined structure, with an introduction, a main body, and a carefully considered conclusion.

Introduction

The literature review's introduction will give the reader a basic overview of the arguments to be presented in the research paper:

  • What is the central theme of the project?
     
  • What are the main questions to be addressed?

Components of the introduction might include:

  • A brief discussion of your reasons for researching your subject.
     
  • An explanation of the organization of the literature review. Why are you taking the approach you're using in the body (see box to the right) of the review?
     
  • Some literature review introductions include a description of how you found your sources: databases used, indexes consulted, and so forth.

Body

How will you present the resources you've found?

  • Chronological: according to date of publication. Not recommended, as this doesn't necessarily show trends or themes in research. Use chronology only if the order of publication demonstrates a more important trend or theme in research. For instance, you could order a review of literature on studies of cigarette smoking in order of publication if that order revealed a change in attitudes or research practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
  • Thematic: Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For example, a thematic organization of studies of cigarette smoking among high school students in the United States might have geography as a theme, with studies and materials on the smoking habits of students in the southern states contrasted with studies and materials of the smoking habits of students in the Pacific Northwest. Another theme might be economic or class-based, with studies of high school smokers from affluent backgrounds contrasted with studies of high school smokers from working class families.
     
  • Methodological: A methodological approach focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. Are the studies included in the literature review survey-based, or experiment-based, or something else?

Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Adapted from "Literature Reviews." The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

Conclusion

The conclusion of your literature review will restate your primary arguments and reiterate the central points you're attempting to make with your research.

Useful Tools

"Writing the Literature Review (Part One)." Video. University of Maryland, University College Writing Center.

"Writing the Literature Review (Part Two)." Video. University of Maryland, University College Writing Center.

Writing Literature Reviews by Sara Davidson Squibb