How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Paper

A common assignment for a research paper is to write a literature review. However, a literature review has its own structure that is fundamentally different from a generic research paper. While a research paper traditionally involves the development of a new or original thought based on existing research, a literature review is essentially an enhanced description of existing literature. If your assignment is to write a literature review, you are not expected to develop new concepts or original research on your own.
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Key Concepts


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Instructions

    • 1

      Focus on your specific topic. If you interpret your topic too broadly, you will have far too many sources to review. Narrow down your assignment as much as possible while still satisfying the topic to make your review easier to manage.

    • 2

      Find the relevant literature. If your assignment is to review specific works, then this step is already accomplished for you. However, many literature reviews are oriented by topic, rather than by specific works, in which case you will have to research appropriate pieces on your own based on the topic.

    • 3

      Briefly summarize the literature you find or are assigned. A literature review is more than a simple summary of existing literature, but having brief summaries in front of you will facilitate the creation of an organized and complete review.

    • 4

      Synthesize your summaries. A successful literature review will present an organized overview of existing literature that presents a new or interesting perspective. While your job in a literature review is not to develop new arguments, it is to provide a fresh look at material in a more in-depth way than with a simple abstract. For example, you may want to explore the progression of thoughts in various pieces of literature over time, or inform your reader how local or temporal influences may have affected the writing of the literature you are reviewing.

    • 5

      Provide sources and location of relevant literature. A literature review often plays a role in future research papers written by other academics. By providing links to your sources and any helpful additional information, you are laying the groundwork for successful future academic discoveries.

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