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How to Do a Literature Review

A literature review is a review of various pieces of literature on one topic, ranging from series of

books to shorter pieces like pamphlets. Sometimes, the literary review is a part of a larger

research paper. Its purpose is to prevent duplication of efforts, resolve conflicts, and point the

way for further research.

1. Clarify your professor's requirements. Some instructors may ask you to do a literature

review and not get more specific than that. Or, maybe they did and you were playing

Plants vs Zombies. Either way, knowing precisely what your professor is looking for is

the first step to getting that A.

2. Clarify your professor's requirements. Some instructors may ask you to do a

literature review and not get more specific than that. Or, maybe they did and you were

playing Plants vs Zombies. Either way, knowing precisely what your professor is looking for

is the first step to getting that A.

2. Narrow your topic. Get as narrow as you possibly can while still having the amount of

sources necessary. Studying birth order may lead you to dozens of books; studying birth

order of same-sex siblings will make your search for sources much quicker and more


Get current. If you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences,

you can afford to be less concerned with timing (in fact, changing opinions throughout history

may be an aspect of your paper). But if you are writing a literary review for the sciences, say, on
treating diabetes, information from 5 years ago could already be obsolete. Sort through current

bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects.

3. Find a focus. Unfortunately, you are not just gathering sources and summing up what

they have to say. You should be considering what themes and ideas connect your sources

together. Think of these books as your group of friends all arguing on the same topic.

What are they all assuming? How are they the same and how are they different?

Read between the lines. You're not necessarily looking for explicit content. Is there an

aspect of the field that is missing? Are your sources all prescribing to one specific theory? Do

you see trends being revealed? This will help you structure your paper immensely, zeroing in

on what will give your paper purpose.

4. Construct your thesis. Now that you've found your focus, it's time to construct a thesis

statement. You may be thinking that literature reviews don't have thesis statements.

That's both partly true and false: They have theses, but they're quite different. Your thesis

statement will not necessarily argue for a position or an opinion; rather, it will argue for a

particular perspective on the material.[1]

For example, "Current trends in [topic] are A, B, and C," or "The X Theory is assumed by

most sources from 1985 on." Stating something like this begs a few questions, making your

review more interesting and meaningful: How will trends change in the future? What if the

assumed theories are wrong?

Again, this is not new information. You are not analyzing the material and coming up with

your own, fresh perspective on it. You are simply acting like a computer--noting patterns,

holes, and assumptions all your sources are taking.

5. Assess your sources. You can have the best of intentions and a form of prose that
convinces the staunchest of skeptics, but if your sources aren't viable, that's it. Finito.

Make sure your sources are evaluated on a number of levels.

Start with a solid introduction. As with everything, first impressions matter. Your intro

should give a quick idea of the topic of your review, be it thematically or by organizational


Help the reader along by letting them know what kind of ride they're in for. If you are

employing a thesis statement, place it toward the end of your introductory paragraph. At the

end, your reader should be anticipating getting into the evidence and bulk of your paper.

2. Organize the body. Here is the part where you have the most options. You have a

number of sources and, since they're all on the same topic, they probably have loads in

common. Choose whichever way seems the most natural to you for your specific focus.

Arrange it chronologically. If you are dealing with varying opinions by era or

changing trends over time, chronological organization may make the most sense.

Arrange it by publication. This organizational method fares well if each publication has a

different stance. If there is a natural progression (radical to conservative, for example)

between the sources, this works swimmingly.

Arrange it by trend. If you are noticing patterns in your sources, arranging them by the

trends they suggest may be the most obvious structure. Certain sources may, together,

suggest one pattern that shifts over time, region, or other variable.

Arrange it thematically. This highly depends on your thesis statement and what sources

you have chosen. If you are choosing a focus that is more abstract ("Colonialism is depicted

as evil," for example), the subsections may be arranged on the different methods employed to

put the theme across.

3. Come to a clear conclusion. The closing paragraph needs to wrap up your paper,

reiterate what was said in the intro, and discuss what you've drawn so far from your studies.

You may make your conclusion suggestive. Where might the discussion proceed if

someone else picked it up where you left off? What are the consequences of the patterns and

holes in today's sources?

4. Use evidence. Feel free to combine multiple sources into your own words to make an

argument. You are using your own words backed up by the works of professionals.

However, use quotes sparingly. The survey nature of the literature review does not

allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text.[1] Some short ones are fine,

sure, but all in all, it should be written by you.

5.Keep your own voice. No, you are not presenting information that sprang up from the

wonders of your own mind, but you should still start and end each paragraph with your own

words. Your voice should remain front and center.

When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the authors

information or opinions accurately and in your own words. [1] Then, relate it to the context

of your review.

Some professors may require that you evaluate the sources and conclude which pieces add

the greatest contribution to the field. If yours is keen on this, determine your take in the

introduction and string it throughout your paper.

1, Review the guidelines. Some professors like their papers a certain way. Make sure yours

not only meets content guidelines but meets formatting guidelines, too.

Does your instructor require APA formatting? What should your margins be? Headers,

footers, footnotes, and page numbers? How do they want your name, headings, and

subheadings? How do they want your works cited page?

2. Check for coherent flow and transitions. It's best to stick to clear and concise

writing and it's not always easy to nail that on the first try. Go back over your work and

rephrase whatever was left ambiguous or wordy.

With everything said as clear as day, does it flow together? Do you transition well not only

from paragraph to paragraph, but from sentence to sentence? Be sure your evidence lines up

with the support and your arrangement of sources flows logically.

Eliminate useless jargon or slang. You may have grown an entirely new vocabulary during

this endeavor, but your professor has not. Write a paper that can be read by the masses. Don't

make it overly esoteric.

3. Proofread your work. You've got the hard part down. Now all you need to do is go

over it for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Take a break between writing and

proofreading--your brain may be a bit saturated. Jump back at it when you're ready.

It's best to have someone else go over your work, too. You may have read it so many times

you can no longer see you lapsed into Portuguese absent-mindedly. A different set of eyes

can locate mistakes you may not have seen, ask questions you didn't realize were left

unaddressed, or seek clarification on the foggier points.

What is a Thesis Statement?

When you receive a writing assignment, your first step in completing it might seem obvious,

but is difficult to do: come up with an original idea or main point for your paper. No matter

what type of paper you are writing (persuasive, expository, research, etc.), you need to have a

central message. The arguments or points you make in your paper should all reference back

to this message, which is called a thesis statement. So, what makes a thesis statement, and

how does it fit into your paper? Read on for some helpful hints and answers to common

Q: How long does my thesis statement need to be?

A: A strong thesis statement should summarize your main point in no more than one or two

sentences. In those sentences, you want to present to the reader what you are writing about,

as well as what your position on the topic is. It should be clear and concise, and serve as a

preview to what you are planning on writing about in the rest of your paper.

Q: Does my thesis statement need to be specific?

A: Yes, you should try to make your thesis statement as specific as you can. One approach to

accomplish this is to start with a more general statement, then refine it as you conduct

research and write the body of your paper. Keep in mind that you want to focus your

statement on an idea that can be addressed within the page range of the paper.

Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. Normally you will continue

to refine your thesis as you revise your argument(s), so your thesis will evolve and gain

definition as you obtain a better sense of where your argument is taking you.

Here is what a too-general thesis statement looks like:

Too much time spent on a digital device is bad for children.

Here is a stronger, more specific one:

Although electronic devices can provide educational content, parents should regulate the

amount of time children spend on digital platforms, as they can inhibit social interaction,

shorten attention spans, and cause unhealthy sleeping habits.

Q: Where do I put my thesis statement in my paper?

A: Your thesis statement should be the last one or two sentences in your introductory

paragraph. This will help immediately inform the reader of what the subject of your paper is,

and what specific examples you are planning to provide in order to prove your central point.