A literature review is a written survey of what researchers have said about a particular group of related concepts. Literature reviews introduce the reader to the current state of understanding on a topic and highlight gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed. They may group or categorize studies as well as provide an evaluation or synthesis of those studies.
Literature reviews should be written in present tense and past tense and generally follow the order of introduction to the research question, review of the literature, and analysis or synthesis of results.
Literature reviews are common assignments in undergraduate and graduate courses, especially in the social sciences. Knowing how to write one is an important skill that students should master during their first year of school.
This guide will teach you how to write a literature review in APA style, including examples and suggestions for success.
When writing a literature review, the following steps are key to creating a compelling piece of writing:
- Research for relevant literature
When researching for this assignment, students should focus on a scholarly research paper, academic journals, and professional magazines rather than newspaper and magazine articles. These should be used sparingly and only to support arguments or prove a point that is not covered by other works. When searching for articles, make sure you include those from peer-reviewed publications as well as those from the target journal’s archives.
- Evaluate the sources
Once you’ve found your sources, it’s important to critically evaluate each one before including it in the paper. This means scanning the information and making sure that key elements are included.
When assessing a source, ask yourself questions like:
- Are the methods described clearly enough for me to understand them?
- Does this article provide enough foundational background information for me to understand the context of the study?
- Is the literature reviewed relevant to my research question?
If you can’t answer yes to these questions, it’s probably not a good idea to include this source in your paper.
- Identify debates and gaps in the literature.
Evaluating your sources and choosing those that are relevant to your topic can be difficult. One way to make this process easier is to identify gaps in the research as well as debates that include contrasting views on a subject. When doing so, focus on how current studies contribute or attempt to contribute to these gaps and debates.
- Create an outline for the review
Once you have a list of articles, it’s time to start planning out your paper. The easiest way to do this is to make an outline that includes the key points that should be included in each section of the paper. This helps ensure that your literature review has all necessary components while also helping you create an introduction and conclusion for the entire piece.
- Write the literature review.
The final step of the process is writing the actual literature review itself. Start by writing an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, your research question, and key points about your paper.
APA (7th edition) style is the most commonly used citation and formatting system. This guide will outline how to format a paper in APA style, along with examples for each component.
1) On all sides of the page, use 1-inch margins (top, bottom, left, and right).
2) Use a comprehensible font. Many fonts are appropriate, including Calibri 11-point, Arial 11-point, Times New Roman 12-point, and Georgia 11 point. The word-processing program’s default font is still ok.
3) Double-spacing is recommended for the entire paper, even for the block quotations and the reference list. Blank lines should not be added before or after headings. There should be no additional space between paragraphs.
4) Text paragraphs should be aligned to the left margin and indented. Allow for a ragged right margin. Use partial justification rather than complete justification. Using the tab key or your word-processing program’s paragraph-formatting feature, indent the first line of each paragraph of text by 0.5 inches.
5) Place a page number in the upper right corner of each page, including the cover page or title page, which is page 1. On any page of a student paper, there is no need for a running head.
Just like other papers, a literature review should start with an introduction. This section should include a thesis statement, the research question(s) being addressed, and key points about your paper. This is typically done in one paragraph.
Make sure that the thesis statement includes your argument, which you will develop more fully in the body of the paper. The thesis should help orient readers to what they can expect from the literature review, especially relative to your research question(s) and its context within existing scholarship about your topic.
An introduction should be interesting and grab the reader’s attention. You might include an anecdote or refer directly to an interesting passage from one of the articles you discuss in your paper.
The body should be divided into subsections, each of which covers a distinct aspect of your research question(s). Each section should begin with an introductory sentence that summarizes the main point you are addressing. As you develop these subheadings, make sure they reflect the purpose of your paper. For example, let’s say you are writing a paper about a certain type of superstition. The sections may be labeled as follows:
- History and prevalence
- Cause of the superstition
- Effects of the superstition
The final sentence of each subsection should include a transition sentence that signals to your reader that you are moving on to another aspect related to your research question(s).
The job of the body section is to present, evaluate and analyze your research results. The section should be well-written and organized, and formal.
The conclusion should begin with a short paragraph restating the thesis statement. The conclusion can also contain some theoretical implications of your research, limitations of your paper, and ideas for future research in the area. It should be one to three paragraphs long, depending on what you are writing about.
It is important that you write an engaging literature review that is not too brief or too long, uses proper English, and is free of grammatical errors. Use the correct APA format for literature review papers.
There are different approaches to organizing a literature review, which includes the following:
This type of approach in structuring a literature review involves looking at the development of a particular concept or idea from the earliest to most recent times. It involves organizing the content according to date.
In this case, you should write about the first known occurrence of what you are writing about to its latest form.
For example, if you are writing about superstition, you can begin with its earliest known roots in prehistoric societies and the practices of various cultures.
According to this method, each new section should cover a distinct era.
This approach to structuring a literature review requires you to look at the content in terms of specific themes, key concepts, topics, or ideas.
Accordingly, it is best to divide your paper into distinct thematic categories, with each section addressing one topic, which you organize chronologically.
For each theme or topic, include a brief description of what it entails and provide examples where necessary. Make sure you give detailed explanations and avoid broad generalities, which often lead to misunderstandings.
Organizing the literature review by topic, theme, or idea is best suited for a paper that addresses an interdisciplinary research question. This type of organization gives you the liberty to discuss, draw connections, compare, and differentiate theories and views on your topic in separate sections.
A thematic approach is most appropriate when you intend to use your literature review papers to argue key findings on your topic.
A thematic approach is most appropriate when you intend to use your literature review papers to argue for a certain standpoint on your topic.
This structuring of a literature review involves dividing the content into sections that address distinct methodological approaches used in researching the particular topic.
This approach is particularly effective if you address a complex research question requiring you to discuss different types of research design and methods used in studying the area.
For example, if your literature review focuses on various ways of measuring job satisfaction, your methodology section can address:
- Quantitative studies on job satisfaction
- Qualitative studies on job satisfaction
- Combined quantitative and qualitative approaches in studying job satisfaction
This approach is particularly useful when there are many distinct ways of conducting research. It allows you to address each method separately in different sections of your paper, making it easier for the reader to follow the argument being put forward.
In a paper, you have to include all the references used in your work. Citing references gives credit and accountability to authors who helped you with their research work. To maintain uniformity of style, a specific format must be followed when writing citations for APA papers, including those written for literature review.
For a literature review, whenever a reference is mentioned, it should be cited in parentheses. The parenthetical citation includes the author’s last name and the year of publication.
For example: (Blaikie, 2000)
The references at the end of your paper should be organized alphabetically by the first author’s last name. At the end of each reference, there must be a full citation formatted according to APA style guidelines. For example:
Blaikie, N. (2000). Human geographies of the Global South: Development, nature and social transformation. London, UK: Longman Press.
- Be specific and clear.
Clarity of expression is one of the most important aspects of good academic writing. When making conclusions in your literature review, make sure that your argument is based on solid reasoning and evidence.
Based on the specific question asked for this paper, establish what exactly needs to be included in the paper. You need to choose the areas that require in-depth analysis.
- Give good examples
When making your point, you must provide relevant examples so that the reader can easily understand what you mean. As you are providing examples, try to use appropriate cases or, if possible international case studies.
- Use formal language
A literature review is a formal document. For the reader to trust what you have written, it is important to use appropriate language and structure of writing. Avoid slang and words that are not commonly used for academic writing.
- Do not include any reference that does not support your argument.
Be careful when you include information from internet sources. You should avoid using unreliable citations or references that have no backing evidence. If you are not sure about the credibility of a source, it is better to avoid including it.
- Avoid plagiarism
As an academic writing assignment, it is important to avoid plagiarism. When you are paraphrasing or summarizing a source, use quotation marks and citation as appropriate.
- Include a reference list at the end of your paper.
At the end of your paper, include a comprehensive list of all references used in your paper. The reference must be cited within the text and listed alphabetically at the end according to APA style guidelines.
Following these tips will help you write an effective literature review. If you are still having trouble or need more advice on how to complete an individual assignment, please feel free to contact us, and we will be happy to help.
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A Literature review is an in-depth analysis of published academic literature on a particular topic. It provides the current state of knowledge about a research question and helps understand how future research can meet aims.
The purpose of a literature review will vary between disciplines, and the work done in your field is likely to influence the structure and tone.
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