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Tools for Effective Writing

Everything you need to become successful in your academic writing.

Writing the Literature Review

Find a focus
Just like a term paper, a literature review is organized around ideas, not just sources. Use the research question you developed in planning your review and the issues or themes that connect your sources together to create a thesis statement. Yes, literature reviews have thesis statements! But your literature review thesis statement will be presenting a perspective on the material, rather than arguing for a position or opinion. For example:

The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine.

More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.

Consider organization
Once you have your thesis statement, you will need to think about the best way to effective organize the information you have in your review. Like most academic papers, literature reviews should have an introduction, body, and conclusion. Refer to the Literature Review Blueprint on the bottom of this page for more information about what each section should include. There are also several ways you can organize the sources within the body of your review. Consider choosing a chronological, thematic, or methodological organization for your sources (see the University of North Carolina's guide on Literature Reviews for more information about this organization types.)

Use evidence and be selective
When making your points in your literature review, you should refer to several sources as evidence, just like in any academic paper. Your interpretation of the available information much be backed up with evidence to show that your ideas are valid. You also need to be selective about the information you choose to include in your review. Select only the most important points in each source, making sure everything you mention relates to the review's focus.

Summarize and synthesize
Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources in each paragraph as well as throughout the review. You should not be doing in-depth analysis in your review, so keep your use of quotes to a minimum. A literature review is not just a summary of current sources; you should be keeping your own voice and saying something new about the collection of sources you have put together.

Revise, revise, revise
When you have finished writing the literature review, you still have one final step! Spending a lot of time revising is important to make sure you have presented your information in the best way possible. Check your review to see if it follows the assignment instructions and/or your outline. Rewrite or rework your language to be more concise and double check that you have documented your sources and formatted your review appropriately.

Literature Review Blueprint

  1. Title Page
  2. Abstract includes the following:
    1. Aims (of the paper)
    2. Background
    3. Data Sources
    4. Review Methods
    5. Results
    6. Conclusion
  3. Introduction – This will be labeled as your paper title in your actual paper.
    1. Define the topic, together with your reason for selecting the topic. You could also point out overall trends, gaps, particular themes etc. Provide a clear explanation of your topic and a thesis statement.
  4. Body
    1. In the body of the paper you discuss your sources. This is one way you could organize your discussion:
      1. The Review
      2. Aim/s: State the aim/s of the review. Include research topic/objectives/questions/hypothesis(es).
      3. Search methods: Include search strategy, inclusion/exclusion criteria, databases searched, keywords, languages, and publishing dates.  
      4. Search outcome: Search outcome and audit trail if appropriate - application of inclusion/exclusion criteria. How many articles did you find with your search terms? How did you decide to keep or reject these articles? The point of this section is to allow someone to replicate your search.
      5. Summarize included studies. You may want a table for this added to your appendix. See your APA manual for details. 
    2. Results
      1. Present the results of your review using appropriate subheadings.
      2. You may wish to use a table to help present this information.
      3. Remember that this is a synthesis. Present the major themes rather than individual papers.
  5.  Discussion
    1. Start with limitations and strength of the evidence.
    2. Draw out the applicability, theoretical and practical implications of the review findings.
  6. Conclusion:
    1. This should not be a summary/repetition of the findings.
    2. Identify implications/recommendations for practice/research/education/management as appropriate, and consistent with the limitations.     
    3. If appropriate, consider whether nursing conceptual or theoretical frameworks could guide future research about the topic of the review.
    4. Discuss the major contributions, evaluate the current position, and point out flaws in methodology, gaps in research, contradictions, and areas for further study. Word limit: 250
  7. References