Writing a literature review is one of the first things students get introduced to at university. Few students are used to such extensive reading on a specific topic. However, writing a literature review can be a perfectly normal exercise if one goes about it in a systematic manner. Here are the steps you can follow to write a literature review effectively.
Determine your topic
Identify the subject and topic area you want to write on. Keep an open mind and consider areas that interest you or that you have a good grip on already. This will ensure that you have the required knowledge to navigate through the research material.
Do the research
This is where you find published research articles on your topic. The purpose is to acquire as large a collection as possible of the current state of research on the topic. This step involves doing the following:
Determining the search criteria, including publication year, relevant keywords, language, type of journal, etc.
Selecting online and offline sources to conduct the literature search
Downloading and filing relevant articles
Review the articles and take notes
At this stage, you are required to review the articles you have collected and prepare notes. Starting each article at the beginning and reading it to the end is not useful. Follow these steps:
Read the abstract/introduction and key terms for a general idea of the paper
Read the conclusion for the main findings
Read the methodology section for the research methods
Read the analysis for an explanation of major hypotheses, arguments, and themes
Read the references list for related articles
As you read through the articles, take notes on a notepad or computer. This will help you analyse the major findings and prepare a good summary of the research. Take note of the following on a Word table or Excel sheet:
Assumptions held by the researchers
Theories used to explain the topic
The hypotheses or claims that are tested in the article
Research methods used: qualitative/quantitative/mixed methods research, data sources, sampling methods, data analysis methods, etc.
Evidence in support of and against the hypotheses
Conclusions, biases and limitations of the study
Analyse the findings
Compare the notes for each article and analyse the various articles interrelate.
Which theories are popular among researchers?
Which research approaches are used more commonly? Why?
What are the common limitations of these studies? Why do they exist and how can they be removed?
How often to the major findings across the articles support a common conclusion? How often do they diverge?
What are the major themes in the research?
Writing the review
The final step is to write your literature review. Use the analysis to determine a logical flow. Structure your review properly, with clear organization by headings and paragraphs. Finally, edit and proofread your review before submission.