Literature Review Writing Techniques
Stringing words together into a literature review that packs a mighty punch daunts even seasoned academic writers. That’s the reason you seek literature review writing techniques that’ll topple the difficulties you anticipate. What this post lays out here isn’t some sort of cast-in-stone rules or conventions. Rather, the post illuminates a few tips that potentially boost the chances you’ll breeze through your literature review. It’s best to treat the ideas gleaned from this writing as suggested literature review writing techniques rather than specific advice. Let’s roll.
First Things First; What’s a Literature Review
Similar to essay writing, literature review writing examines critically the studies that are relevant to the research you intend to undertake.
A successful literature review accomplishes four important aims.
First, the process pinpoints all the notable trends that define the debate that’s happening at a particular time. Second, the exercise identifies and assesses the various factors that strengthen existing studies and those that weaken them.
Third, a properly crafted literature review strives to locate knowledge gaps.
Finally, a literature review enables you establish why the world needs the study you’re about to conduct. Additionally, literature review writing attempts to spot research areas that might interest researchers in the future.
You’ve learned what a literature review is all about. Now, let’s jump to other important aspects of this process. Don’t worry. Just a few moments and you’ll encounter the literature review writing techniques you crave.
Before Reviewing Our Literature Review Writing Techniques….
Do the following. Identify a researchable topic. Interestingly, writing a literature review is an effective way to find a great topic. At the same time, starting with a great literature review topic points your writing in the right direction. For the purpose of our discussion, we’ll assume you’ve not picked a topic yet.
How do you go about identifying a good topic?
Choosing the right topic daunts scores of undergraduate and graduate students. But here’s the good news. Selecting your topic is a process that guides itself if you’ll let it. In other words, your topic should find you rather than the reverse.
Here are five places to fetch great topics for your literature review.
1. The Library
The library provides a great environment for research. That environment compels everyone to concentrate. So, walk in there. Collect a few relevant books.
Sometimes, your assignment instructs you regarding the number of sources you should collect. Other times, though, your professor chooses to leave you the freedom to decide how many sources you’ll use. How long your paper will be determines the number of sources you need.
Does your literature review integrate into a larger piece of work such as a dissertation? If yes, you’ll probably need as many relevant sources as are available. But there should be a limit of sorts, you know. Stop gathering research when the references to your sources lead you to no new sources. That’s pretty straightforward, right?
If the literature review is a standalone assignment, on the other hand, let the word-count given guide you. Generally, the longer the literature review, the more the sources to examine. Makes sense? It should.
So, books read books (skim/scan) and other material. See if any particular topic resonates with you.
Read the Sources
You’ve gathered every source your literature review needs to shine. Now, work.
Consult each source’s table of contents. What subheadings stand out to your eyes? Do any particular theories grab your attention? Do any concepts seem relevant to your work? Notice everything. Write every important aspect you identify down.
Also, add every new source to your growing list of references as you go.
Productive reading helps you quickly glean the gems that differentiate each work from any other. By “gems,” we mean those pieces of information that make each source interesting and valuable.
Finally, summarize your notes. What idea towers over every other? You’ve spotted a great topic right there. Learn how to distill each source into its essence fast and accurately. Sure, that’s not among the literature review writing techniques we promised. However, it’s a technique that catapults your paper to some progress.
2. Your Department
Depending on the paper you’re writing, your department may or may not specify a topic for you. If it’s a normal assignment, your professor might ask to examine a certain topic. Sometimes they don’t, though. In such cases, you may have to follow the suggestions above to identify a good topic.
If you’re developing a dissertation, you typically retain the independence to decide the topic to research. In this scenario, the literature review will be one of the 5 or so chapters in your dissertation. That means your literature review topic is technically the same as that of the dissertation.
Your dissertation chair or any other committee member can jumpstart your dissertation by suggesting viable topics. In some cases, your supervisor might prefer that you study an area of interest to them. And that’s ok.
Yes, your department has enough smart heads that can spew out a few possible topic ideas for you to consider. Engage them continually.
3. Your Memory
You can still remember a few past research areas that gripped your attention. You really enjoyed exploring these topics. You also enjoyed reviewing the sources and outlining your ideas.
You can remember how you excitedly assembled your findings into coherence, breezing your way into a well-deserved A. You can take one of those topics and see if you can invent a new angle to look at it.
If writing a dissertation, delve into year 2 of grad school. See if you can fish out a topic idea from those days. There’s always a research area you’ve allowed to percolate for quite some time. It’s also a topic that intrigues you and nudges you to take action. You don’t need to look hard. That topic has craved your attention for so long.
4. The Web
Consult Google Scholar. Consider a few recent dissertations, research papers, and theses that are relevant to your area. Head toward the discussion and conclusions section and see if you can spot one or two suggested topics. The approach allows you to act on some researcher’s recommendations. Who knows, you might bump into an exciting topic area to research.
Also, read journal articles. Review scholarly articles. Notice what’s trending. Hopefully, you’ll run into some topic area that excites you.
We’ve discussed 4 tips already to identify a suitable topic for your literature review. And we still have one more tip to go. In a very short while, we’ll make good on our promise. You’ll certainly get our suggested literature review writing techniques and potentially energize your academic writing.
5. Your Favorite Coffee Shop
Writers of every hue have spent tons of hours in their favorite coffee house. They’ve thought up theories, concepts, and ideas that came together into great works. In the coffee house, writers have entertained a friend or fellow writer who injected exciting insights into their work.
Don’t you suppose inviting your mentor, favorite professor, or even a professional writer over for coffee makes sense? Maximize your meeting’s potential. Note down ideas that pop into your head as you discuss your project or assignment.
At this time, don’t discriminate the individual ideas or suggestions you receive. You can always trim down the fat from each item on the list. And that’ll allow a lean, fit literature review topic to wiggle out.
5 Actionable Literature Review Writing Techniques to Revitalize Your Writing
We can’t assert that there’s a definite number of effective literature review writing techniques. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll point you to several actionable techniques and hope that helps your assignment in some way.
As we always say, our ideas are only suggestions. You can modify them. Or expand them. You can disregard any ideas from our suggestions. Heck, you can even throw our ideas out the window if you think they’re not useful. Here they are:
1. Overview Your Sources to Fish out Theories, Concepts, Ideas
Certainly, your professor doesn’t expect you to review every possible source on the web or in print. But they expect you to examine enough relevant sources. We already discussed how to decide you’ve collected enough sources. We also did shed some light on how to get the most of your sources.
This technique builds on the idea we illuminated under the section “Read the Sources.”
So, learn how to quickly overview scholarly or journal articles. How do I do that? Read the abstract. The abstract summarizes the entire source. Reading the abstract lets you focus only on the main points and findings.
Also, review the introduction.
The intro reveals the background of the study. Read it to grasp why the study you’re reading matters and its implications. In addition, the intro offers references that can lead you to further reading on the topic at hand.
Finally, read the conclusion.
The conclusion displays the author’s most important findings, implications, and recommendations. Reading these sections rather than the entire source saves time and energy. It also ensures you ferret out only what matters, disregarding “filler content.” Let’s now move on to the other literature review writing techniques we promised you.
2. Learn How to Organize Your Literature Review
Organizing your sources properly enables you to squeeze out all of the juice your research material carries. You can organize the sources you have in many effective ways. Here are different ways to organize your work:
Organize Your Literature Review Chronologically
Here, you discuss ideas on the basis of when their authors published them.
In this technique, you kick off the review writing process with the oldest sources and end with the most current. It’s a fine technique. But it’s not without shortcomings. One drawback is that there’s always a chance that sources that seemingly discuss a similar idea are actually about different ideas. And that can diminish your focus. Or even cause your literature review to lose its focus ultimately. Luckily, there are other literature review writing techniques to ensure you don’t stay stuck.
Organize Your Sources by Publication
Another technique to organize your review is to order the sources you have by publication date. The approach seems similar to the one discussed above. However, there’s a slight distinction.
In this approach, you arrange your material by date of publication only if doing that reveals an important trend in the research. Use the technique if your research area has seen researchers discover new or better research methods, procedures, and techniques over time.
Organize the Sources by Trend
The approach is chronological in nature. However, it differs from the other two in some respects.
Here, you strive to order your material under different trends. You can divide the sources into various time periods so that each period presents sources published within that duration. The approach assumes that different periods see different trends. It seeks to capture the trends as they happen.
Suppose your literature review is about whales. You could organize your topic under the following trend: the history of whales. Let’s assume your research probably starts from the year 1600. You could have trends relating to these durations: 1600-1700, 1701-1800, 1801-1900, and 1901, 2000, and 2001-20xx
The method may have you combining ancient sources with pretty recent ones. But that’s ok. It all depends on the subject you’re examining. Don’t like this technique? Don’t worry. Read on and learn a few other effective literature review writing techniques.
Order Your Literature Review Research Thematically
A thematic review of literature doesn’t care about when sources got published.
In this technique, how time has progressed is irrelevant to how you design your review. But that’s not to assert that this format can’t follow a chronological order. It’s just that a thematic review focuses on aspects other than publication.
What matters most for this technique is the topic or issue under examination. It’s the topic or issue in question rather than when its author published it that determines your review’s organization. In this technique, you would find, review, and summarize sources that focus on different aspects of your topic.
In this approach, it’s easy to stick with only the most current sources. However, you’ll find yourself including relatively old and new sources in the same section. Luckily, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Finally, You Can Order Your Sources Methodologically
In this literature review writing technique, the organization of your review doesn’t focus on the progression of time. Or even on the topic at hand.
Instead, the organization of your review focuses on the research methods employed by the authors. Here, you’d choose certain sources over others because they followed a particular methodology.
3. Design a Concept Map or Tables
Tables can help you overview, organize, or summarize the findings from your review of literature. You may or may not include the table(s) in the final written review. Still, we suggest you include the table(s).
You can easily create tables using Excel or MS Word. While both tools are appropriate, it’s best to use Excel. Why? It’s because Excel lightens your workload in some way. Excel, for example, lets you sort your sources as to dates, methodology, topics, subtopics, issues, by trend, or by author. That does infuse a bit of organization into your review.
You can create different tables for different aspects of your review.
For instance, you can have a table for research methods, another for definition of terms, and another for findings. There’s no specified number. However, you don’t want your literature review to feature only tables.
4. Search for “Models,” Review Them; Learn from Them
Before you start writing your literature review, we’d love for you to do this. Check out a few published literature reviews on your topic area. Why do this?
First, reading reviews helps you grasp a sense of the various themes that hold together particular studies. As a result, determining the theme(s) that’ll guide your review becomes somewhat easier. Second, reading relevant reviews on your topic lets you glimpse at what your final review might look like.
But where do I find “models?” That’s easy. Go to Google or any other search engine. Or access a credible electronic database. Then, head to the search bar. Type the topic you’re researching and include the word “review” at the end. It’s that easy.
5. Find a Theme; then Focus on it
One mistake you must avoid is organizing your literature review the way you would a bibliography. While publication dates and methodology are important, it’s best to order your sources around specific ideas. But that’s not suggesting all you should do is compile a list of sources. Go further than that. Discover the theme or issues that link each source to all the other studies you’re interested in.
How well do the sources represent existing research? Can you organize the material into known theories that you can focus on? How well do the sources capture the emerging trends in your research area?
Does the material point you to a raging debate? All these are important questions that lead you to clear themes around which to build your literature review.
In short, locate the focus of your study and let it direct your steps throughout the writing process.
Spare a Minute or Two More and Learn More
That’s about it concerning the literature review writing techniques you’ve been craving. But that’s not all you’re going to learn here.
Wouldn’t you want to know about the structure to adopt while crafting your literature review?
Well, structure isn’t always such an important issue given that your professor might have given you a format to follow. But professors don’t always tell you precisely what to do. They’re lecturers rather than just teachers, after all!
Suggested Structure for a Literature Review
Structure has to do with how you present your findings, ideas, and conclusions. It helps you decide what comes first, what follows and in what order, and what comes last.
The right structure enables you to display what matters most first and what matters least last.
Most importantly, using a proper structure helps you organize your work logically. We’ll present a structure you can use, but you don’t have to follow it. It’s just a suggestion, after all.
Here’s the suggested structure for you:
It looks like we’ve given you a raw deal here. You expected more. But first, think about it. A literature review is an academic paper. And all academic papers feature three prominent parts namely the introduction, the body, and the final paragraph or two.
Now, let’s consider each section in a little more detail.
The introduction serves one main role. It quickly links the reader with your literature review’s topic.
In addition, the intro showcases the central theme that powers your work. Of course, your intro should pack quite a punch if you want people to read your review through to the end.
We discussed various literature review writing techniques earlier. You can organize your work chronologically, by publication, by trend, by methods, and thematically.
By now, you’ve picked a specific approach/technique to follow. Now, it’s just a question of assembling your sources into logical coherence.
The body of a literature review discusses each reviewed source in depth. The author clearly states the main message each source communicates. Further, it illuminates the key findings and their implications for the proposed study (where the review is part of a bigger study).
Most importantly, the writer points out the strengths and weaknesses of each source. At this time, you’re addressing one critical question: the source’s validity. The question you seek to answer is whether the source is valuable and reliable.
Most of the work you’ll put in will end up in the body of your literature review. Unsurprisingly, writing this part of the literature review daunts many. It’s not unusual for some students to seek a bit of professional support. Here’s the good news. Finding a credible literature review writing service these days is easy as ABC.
And now comes the ending of your literature review. If you poured in enough intelligent work into the body of your review, concluding your paper should be pretty easy.
At this point, your job is to point the reader to the synthesized conclusion(s) you’ve drawn. Aside from presenting your conclusion(s), provide a few suggestions as to how the discussion might continue in the future.
Remember: when it comes to formats, there are no hard-and-fast rules. It’s always wise to ask your instructor first.
Final Word on “Literature Review Writing Techniques”
You’ve likely gleaned a few tips and ideas to help you write your literature review. To you, finding a great topic to review must now seem quite easy. Also, you’ve encountered a couple literature review writing techniques you can start using now. Note: the techniques presented in this post constitute suggestions rather than specific advice.
Besides that, we’ve provided a few tips for structuring your literature review. Now, nothing stops you from finishing your literature review assignment or dissertation. Remember that anyone can get stuck anytime. And that’s where proven literature review writing services come in.