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I. The Review of Literature: What It Is and What It Does

Aug 18, 2013 by Dr Sally

This blog series will help you write one of the essential and yet, for many, the most difficult piece of the academic writing project. With each entry of this blog series, you will better understand what a literature review is, what it does, and how to go about doing it.

Purpose of a Literature Review

In scholarly writing, the new ideas you present need to rest on your assessment of the previous and current literature on your topic. At its most basic, a literature review provides your readers with an overview of the ideas, theories, and significant literature currently published on your topic.

Your task in writing the literature review is not simply to summarize the prior research but to critically review the research related to your topic then present your own perspective on the research in your field as a means for establishing your credibility as a scholar.

The Purdue University Writing Center explains that in your literature review you need to

  • Rely on opinions of experts and authorities on your topic, but expand on and/or disagree with those same opinions.
  • Give credit to researchers who have come before you, but highlight your own new significant contribution.

Your review of the literature positions you within the academic conversation in your field. To this end, you should understand certain rules for presenting your ideas so that your audience will find them credible.

Relevance and Credibility of Your Research

As in all scholarly writing, the literature review must be well structured, and your ideas must flow logically from one point to the next. Most important, you need to establish your credibility with your reader:

  • Include only source material and references that you have decided are essential, current, and relevant to your argument.
  • Establish your authority to speak on the topic by paying attention to your audience’s expectations, the rhetorical purpose and genre of your document, and the academic standards of your discipline.
  • Present terminology and viewpoints on your topic in an unbiased and comprehensive manner. Remember that if you rely too heavily on outside material and citations, you do not show enough of your own thinking. Do not turn your paper into a laundry list of sources which you have organized into an argument, but which contains none of your own ideas.
  • Cite materials appropriately according to your discipline. Ask yourself what each citation contributes to your argument and what you are trying to achieve with each citation.

Your Audience

In writing your review of literature, you need to consider your audience. Have your readers read the same books as you? Are they well-versed in your topic, or are they new to the material? Do you need to walk your readers through the basic theories and definitions so that they can assess the merits of the problem you propose to investigate?

Think of the literature review as the place where you take your readers by the hand and guide them through all the essential details they need to know to understand the rest of the paper without your help. At the end of the review, think of yourself as letting go of your readers’ hands, and saying, “You now know enough to take it from here. I’ll meet you at the other end.”

Remember, your ideas need to be at the center of your writing, but your work has to be embedded in what has come before to demonstrate your idea’s relevance and importance to the subject. The literature review connects your ideas to the other ideas in your field.

In the next blog, you will learn how to organize your literature review and how to review the essential, current, and relevant literature written on your topic.
 

  • Jessica says:

    Jul 18, 2015 at 3:43 am

    Thanks for this post! I think it is really useful. Where I can find more information about academic writing?

  • Joshua says:

    Aug 10, 2015 at 1:25 am

    Hi Jessica! Here are some useful articles: http://blog.pro-papers.com/doing-paper-writing-from-scratch/ http://blog.pro-papers.com/how-to-write-a-good-history-paper/ http://blog.pro-papers.com/how-to-write-critical-thinking-questions/

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