How to Write a Literature Review for an Academic Paper
The literature review component of an academic paper compiles key pieces of literature used for research. It doesn't simply list the research materials. The review provides a summary, evaluation and comparison of the materials without adding your own ideas to the mix. A well-written literature review provides a reference for your research and allows readers to validate what your paper says.
Select the Sources
The literature review starts with your source material. Choosing a specific topic for your academic paper helps you search for relevant literature. Don't grab the first sources you find. Evaluate the source material to ensure it is current and still relevant.
The period of relevancy varies by topic and field. Medical research and advancements change so frequently that research material becomes outdated quickly, for example. It should also come from a reputable source or expert in the field. Ensure the literature answers the research question in your paper.
Assess the Material
Once you've narrowed the selection of materials, you're ready to analyze the information. Pick out the key points in each piece of literature. Look for contradictions in the sources, which you can address in the review. You'll also explore relationships between the material.
One study might cover one aspect of the topic, while another analyzes a related yet different component. Your literature review can highlight how those two studies work together to support your thesis. Categorize the materials into pieces that support your thesis and those that contradict it. You may also find materials that provide a completely different perspective.
Choose an Organizational Method
A well-written literature review organizes the sources in a logical way. One organizational method is chronological. For some topics, organizing by publication date of the materials is effective. Other topics are better served by arranging the information historically.
For example, in a literature review on childhood vaccines, use a historical approach that walks through the stages of development and use.
A thematic organizational approach groups together materials based on subsections of the thesis. When writing about cyberbullying, potential themes include definition of cyberbullying, signs victims exhibit and ways to stop cyberbullying.
Develop the Review
A literature review follows a format similar to essays or papers, with an introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction explains your thesis for the academic paper to provide background for the review. Include any criteria you used when evaluating the source materials. The body of the literature review holds the details of each piece of research material analyzed.
Introduce the materials using the organizational strategy you chose. Provide a summary and explain the connections and relevancy of each material included in the review. The conclusion recaps your key findings as you analyzed the literature for the paper. You can also include flaws or inconsistencies, as well as areas that need further research.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Literature Reviews
- The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin - Madison: Learn How to Write a Review of Literature
- University of California Santa Cruz: Write a Literature Review
- NC State University Libraries: Literature Review: An Overview for Graduate Students
Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.