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The Literature Review in Science

The purpose of this guide is to explain the importance of the literature review in the sciences and some of the components that make up a quality guide.

Writing the Literature Review

Provide a statement of intent

A literature review will most likely not have a thesis statement that you will argue, but you probably will want to start with a statement explaining the purpose of the literature review.

Synthesizing the literature

Remember that you are not simply providing a summary of the articles that you selected for your literature review.  You are aligning and synthesizing the conclusions arrived at by the authors of those articles and then bridging those conclusions to your own research question.  You should examine the themes that might be present within each article and how those themes may be similar or different to one another.  You would also want to examine information that may not have been considered by other researchers and why that missing information may be important to the conclusions you hope to draw.

Organization

The literature review is similar to other papers in that it still is organized into three main components: an introduction, the body and the conclusion.  

Although a literature review will most likely not have a thesis statement that you are arguing, but you probably want to start with a statement explaining the purpose of the literature review.

There are several options for organizing the body of the literature review.  

  • address the research articles chronologically in the order that they were published.
  • address the research articles chronologically in the order that the events in the articles occurred
  • address the articles by trends, highlighting possible differences in how the topic has been viewed
  • address the articles thematically, highlighting the main points identified in each article
  • address the articles methodologically, grouping articles that used similar methodologies together 

The conclusion will introduce questions that remain to be addressed, including the question that you as the researcher hope to develop into your research question.