Literature Reviews

How to summarize the articles you find into a coherent review

Researching a literature review can find enough references from to fill a whole essay with quote after quote. Having gathered this information, it is difficult to filter out the essential information, from what is peripheral and what is largely irrelevant (see Fink, 2005 for further information).

The secret to successful research and review is hitting upon the main points, the points that were the foundations or will represent the way forward in your area of study.

You have already chosen the reference points that will form the basis of your essay and have written your piece. But with so many points and so much material how do you summarize your essay without writing it all over again?

This stage is tricky but you will improve with very essay you write. It may sometimes feel as though you are repeating yourself as you recall the points made in elsewhere in the essay, but the tip is to pick three or four points that represent the thrust of your work and summarize these without repeating the reference word for word.

As you summarize the work you have reviewed, add your own opinion or the consensus that appears to have been drawn from the research. Ask questions of the research.

If you are stuck, then find a powerful quote to use and then review the information around that quote. For example in an essay about the misconceptions that surround the subject of cloning, an evocative quote would be: ‘Many who fear the power of the scientist ask; just because they think they could, does that mean they should?’ (Silver, 1997). This quote could form the basis of a section as you explore the concepts of fear, science and cloning etc.

Always consider the research that you have read about. When summarizing what is known, think of an area where work needs to or is likely to be focused in the coming years. Focusing your work on literature that has a forward looking slant, and tackles what is not known in the field, will show that you too, are thinking of how the subject will develop in the future (Cooper, 1998).

When you have made you choice and composed you summary, read through your work again. Make sure that the work you have summarized is the most relevant to your area of study. Make sure it answers the question or statement that you have based your work on, and, of course, never forget the golden rule, leave your reader something to think about!

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Fink, Dr. A, G., (2005). Conducting Research Literature Reviews, the Internet to the Paperback, Sage Publications, 2nd Edition.

Silver, L. M. (1997). Remaking Eden; Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World, William Morrow 1st edition: New York, Harper Collins.

Cooper, Dr. H, M. (1998). Synthesizing Research: A Guide for Literature Reviews (Applied Social Research Method), Sage Publications, Inc; Third Edition.


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