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Common Course Assignments: Literature Reviews

Basics of Literature Reviews

A literature review is a written approach to examining published information on a particular topic or field. An author uses this review of literature to create a foundation and justification for his or her research or to demonstrate knowledge on the current state of a field. This review can take the form of a course assignment or a section of a longer capstone project.  Read on for more information about writing a strong literature review!

Students often misinterpret the term literature review to mean a collection of source summaries, similar to annotations or article abstracts. While summarizing is an element of a literature review, you will want to approach this assignment as a comprehensive representation of your understanding of a topic or field, such as what has already been done or what has been found. Then, also using these sources, you can demonstrate the need for future research, specifically, your future research.

There is usually no required format or template for a literature review. However, there are some actions to keep in mind when constructing your review:

  1. Include an introduction and conclusion. Even if the literature review will be part of a longer document, these paragraphs can act as bookends to your material. Provide background information for your reader, such as including references to the pioneers in the field in the beginning and offering closure in the end by discussing the implications of future research to the field.
  2. Avoid direct quotations. Just like in an annotated bibliography, you will want to paraphrase all of the material you present in a literature review. This assignment is a chance for you to demonstrate your knowledge on a topic, and putting ideas into your own words will ensure that you are interpreting the found material for your reader. Paraphrasing will also ensure your review of literature is in your authorial voice.
  3. Organize by topic or theme rather than by author. When compiling multiple sources, our tendency as writers can be to summarize each source and then compare and contrast the sources at the end. Instead, organize your sources by your identified themes and patterns. This organization helps demonstrate your synthesis of the material and inhibits you from creating a series of book reports.
  4.  Use headings. APA encourages the use of headings within longer pieces of text to display a shift in topic and create a visual break for the reader. Headings in a literature review can also help you as the writer organize your material by theme and note any layers, or subtopics, within the field.
  5. Use comparative terms. A literature review can be lengthy and dense, so you will want to make your text appealing to your reader. Transitions and comparison terms will allow you to demonstrate where authors agree or disagree on a topic and highlight your interpretation of the literature.

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