How to write a literature review A literature review is an objective, critical* summary of the published, peer-reviewed research literature (i.e., a collection of journal articles) that is relevant to a topic you select. A good literature review describes, summarizes and critiques* the current perspectives of experts on your topic, synthesizes those perspectives where possible, and points out differences where they exist. A typical academic literature review has the following components: 1. Title page 2. Abstract page 3. Introduction (does not require a heading in your paper) A. A clear, concise description of the topic to be reviewed, as well as the scope of the studies and articles to be included. (For example, if the topic is “the role of non-conscious processes in one’s sense of meaning in life,” the scope of the review may be limited to peer-reviewed, published works, works in English, studies based on a particular culture, age group or country, etc.) B. The introduction is also where you note any exclusions. (For example, “This review will not include studies of persons with diagnosed mental illnesses.”) C. Another purpose of the introduction is to state the general findings of the review (what do most of the sources conclude), and comment on the breadth and currency (recency) of the literature. 4. Body A. There are two common ways to organize the evaluation of the sources: chronological and thematic. In a chronological approach, the ideas from the literature that address your question are presented in time order – for example, earlier views held such and such, positions taken in the recent past were this and that, and current thinking is so and so. A thematic approach categorizes the views you find in the literature: “Some theorists say that X is the case, while other researchers take the view that A and B better explain and predict this issue.” B. In longer reviews, studies are critically evaluated for the details of their premises, designs, methodology, and findings. However, this is a brief review, so you should only include details about research design or methods that are directly relevant to (necessary for) your own critique or conclusions. (For example, noting that a study had a very small sample size.) C. Use logical connections and transitions to link sources and lead the reader along the lines of your own thinking. 5. Conclusion A. The conclusion summarizes the key findings of the review in general terms. Consistencies among findings in the articles you used should be included here. B. The purpose of your literature review should be clearly stated again and supported based on the findings of your review. 6. References page(s) A. As well as in-text citations, a literature review must contain complete and correct citations for every source. Both citations and references must be in APA style. B. Note that every citation must point to a reference on the reference page, and every reference must have at least one in-body citation.
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