Literature Reviews

Before writing anything, understand what you are trying to achieve...

You can approach a literature review from many angles. You could focus on:

  • The theoretical arguments or main concepts of your subject
  • The paradigms or shared frameworks of understanding (what people understand about the subject in broad terms)
  • The methodologies used
  • Quantitative research that illustrates key findings
  • Qualitative research such as case studies

These different strands will intertwine and cross over, yet it is important to define where to start and how.

First, take time to think about your approach before you begin work. Many projects fail because the aim of the review was not clear in the head of the reviewer. Consequently they spent a lot of their time producing a woolly and rambling piece of work, which failed to establish any point and was overlong. So before you start, choose a main area to focus upon and write down what you are planning to do e.g. review the main pieces of qualitative research in your area or review the methodologies that researchers have used.

Never forget that you should understand the topics before embarking on a detailed review. Do not try to write before you understand the key concepts and never assume the reader of the review will not notice!

Second, identify the aims of your review before you start. Ask yourself if you are you attempting to produce an overview of the subject to be used in a dissertation or essay? Or is the review itself, to be used as stand-alone research?

In either case, draw up a list of the sources and key references that will supply the information you need. Then find and read the references given in those pieces of work to gain a broader understanding of the topic. To give contrast and spark debate, try to find sources whose opinions differ in some respect so that you can demonstrate your own understanding and interpretation of the subject. It is common for authors to quote where their findings differ from others in the conclusion sections of journals papers, so find and read these other sources and include them in your work.

It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with decades of research. Yet it is important to review the modern literature AND the literature that provided the basis for the subject. For example if you were studying economics, start by studying the early days of economic theory or the development of the subject. Go on to extrapolate the theories or findings, through modern works by different authors and make sure you show how these theories have developed.

If the work is intended to represent stand-alone research, make your findings clear and your suggestions for further study obvious. At the end of each section or topic demonstrate that you understand the subject by drawing conclusions from across the body of work.

Writing clearly and concisely while retaining the interest of your reader can be a challenge. If you need help with this, StyleWriter editing software could be the solution. It picks up on all your misspellings, grammar errors and poorly worded sentences. You’ll soon be writing with greater professionalism and precision. Why not try it today for free? Read our StyleWriter review


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