Literature Review: Meaning and How to write it

literature review

A literature review is a critical evaluation, analysis and synthesis of similar works to your objectives of study with the purpose of justifying the need for your research work. It is an overview of what we know and of what we do not know about a given topic – Not necessarily exhaustive, but up -to -date and includes all major work on the topic.

According to Helen Morgan (2006) a literature review is not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize briefly each article that you have reviewed. Literature review goes well beyond merely summarizing professional literature. It focuses on a specific topic of interest to you and includes a critical analysis of the relationship among different works, and relating this research to your work. It may be written as a stand-alone paper or to provide a theoretical framework and rationale for a research study (such as a thesis or dissertation).

Literature review is not:

  • A summary list of everything written on a topic, where each source gets its summary paragraph.
  • Lacks organization guided by thesis or research questions
  • Lacks critical evaluation of literature
  • An annotated bibliography.

Purpose of Literature Review

  • It prevents you from duplicating work that has been done before.
  • It helps you to find out what others have learned and reported on the problem or issue you want to study. This may assist you in refining your statement of the problem.
  • It helps you to become more familiar with the various research approaches that might be used in your study.
  • Displaying your understanding of research on a given topic
  • Identification of important works
    • Points of agreement, consensus
    • Points of disagreement, controversy
    • Identification of areas for further research (Gap in knowledge).
  • Providing readers with the intellectual context and some motivation for your original research, by helping you to learn from others and stimulate new knowledge.

Where to source material for your literature Review.

  • Scholarly journals (type your topic in popular journal websites).
  • Books (Type the name of text you want in Google)
  • Projects, Thesis, Dissertation (Check in your school library)
  • Government Documents (Online)
  • Newspapers, Magazines (Online)
  • General Reference Documents:
  • Unpublished Papers:
  • Internet (

Analyzing and Organizing your Literature

The first step is to use different sources as outlined above to locate journal articles and publication that relates to your topic or objectives of study. Once you locate the material, analyze and review the literature following the following steps.

General overview of journal article: The first step is to skim the journal articles to get an idea of the general purpose and content of the article by focusing on the abstract, introduction and first few paragraphs, the conclusion of each article. As you read through take note of important facts, mark word that interest you.

Grouping your ideas: Group the ideas according to your objectives, topics and subtopics and chronologically within each subtopic). Grouping your ideas help you not to lump several ideas in one place.

Taking Notes: Note taking can be of different format and style. Basically, I suggest you group your notes in each of the categories earlier discussed above to those notes you will quote directly and those you will paraphrase. It should be noted that, direct quoting should be enclosed with quotation mark and should include the page number from the article. Although, you may collect a large number of quotes during the note taking phase of your review when you write the review, use quotes very sparingly in your research work. Example, Noko (2016, p. 34) noted that, “literature review is getting oneself familiarized with what has been done in the field of interest and providing justification for the research”

It is advisable to only quote when some key meaning would be lost in translation if paraphrasing the original author’s words, or if using the original words adds special emphasis to a point that I am making.

Think for a way to look for differences in the way keys terms are defined (note these differences). Note key statistics that you may want to use in the introduction to your review.

Note emphases, strengths & weaknesses. Since different research studies focus on different aspects of the issue being studied, each article that you read will have different emphases, strengths. Your role as a reviewer is to evaluate what you read, so that your review is not a mere description of different articles, but rather a critical analysis that makes sense of the collection of articles that you are reviewing.

Identify major trends or patterns. As you read a range of articles on your topic, you should make note of trends and patterns over time as reported in the literature.

This step requires you to synthesize and make sense of what you read, since these patterns and trends may not be spelled out in the literature, but rather become apparent to you as you review the big picture that has emerged over time.

Your analysis can make generalizations across a majority of studies, but should also note inconsistencies across studies and over time.

Identify gaps in the literature, and reflect on why these might exist (based on the understandings that you have gained by reading literature in this field of study). These gaps will be important for you to address as you plan and write your review.

Identify relationships among studies: note relationships among studies, such as which studies were landmark ones that led to subsequent studies in the same area. You may also note that studies fall into different categories (categories that you see emerging or ones that are already discussed in the literature).

When you write your review, you should address these relationships and different categories and discuss relevant studies using this as a framework.

Evaluate your references for currency and coverage. Although you can always find more articles on your topic, you have to decide at what point you are finished with collecting new resources so that you can focus on writing up your findings.

However, before you begin writing, you must evaluate your reference list to ensure that it is up to date and has reported the most current work.

Decides on method of Presenting Literature: The most popular and best approach is thematic method. Where each literature are discussed based on headings (derived from objectives of study).

Write the introduction. The introduction should include a clear statement of the topic and its parameters. You should indicate why the research area is important, interesting, problematic or relevant in some way.

Use tables to organize, and summarize your findings.  If you do include tables as part of your review each must be accompanied by an analysis that summarizes, interprets and synthesizes the literature that you have charted in the table.

Proofread and edit carefully. The literature review is an important part of a dissertation or thesis. It should be thorough and accurate.

According to Nicholas Shunder (2007) there important questions to ponder on before writing the full literature review to act as a checklist.

Important factors to Ponder on Before Writing Literature review

  • What are the trends and themes in the literature?
  • What are the points of consensus?
  • What are the points of controversy?
  • Which debates are on-going?
  • Where does my research weigh in?
  • Where are the areas on which there is ample research?
  • What are the areas that need further research?
  • Which studies offer support for my thesis?
  • Which studies contradict my thesis?
  • Where does my research fit into the larger literature on the topic?

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