The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period.
Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not. A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together.
Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory?
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Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review. Here are a couple of examples:. Now what is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc. And in what order should you present them?
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Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:. The following provides a brief description of the content of each:.
Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further. To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario:. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century.
So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel. Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body.
Sort through current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. Find a focus. Unfortunately, you are not just gathering sources and summing up what they have to say. You should be considering what themes and ideas connect your sources together. Think of these books as your group of friends all arguing on the same topic. What are they all assuming? How are they the same and how are they different?
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Read between the lines. You're not necessarily looking for explicit content. Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? Are your sources all prescribing to one specific theory? Do you see trends being revealed? This will help you structure your paper immensely, zeroing in on what will give your paper purpose.
Construct your thesis. Now that you've found your focus, it's time to construct a thesis statement. You may be thinking that literature reviews don't have thesis statements. That's both partly true and false: They have theses, but they're quite different. Your thesis statement will not necessarily argue for a position or an opinion; rather, it will argue for a particular perspective on the material. What if the assumed theories are wrong?
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Again, this is not new information. You are not analyzing the material and coming up with your own, fresh perspective on it. You are simply acting like a computer--noting patterns, holes, and assumptions all your sources are taking. Assess your sources. You can have the best of intentions and a form of prose that convinces the staunchest of skeptics, but if your sources aren't viable, that's it. Make sure your sources are evaluated on a number of levels. What are the author's credentials? How are their arguments supported narratives, statistics, historical findings, etc.
Is the author's perspective unbiased and objective? Are they ignoring any data to make their points seem stronger? How persuasive are they? Do any of their points leave a bit to be desired? Does their work lead to a greater understanding of the subject? Start with a solid introduction. As with everything, first impressions matter. Your intro should give a quick idea of the topic of your review, be it thematically or by organizational pattern. Help the reader along by letting them know what kind of ride they're in for.
If you are employing a thesis statement, place it toward the end of your introductory paragraph. At the end, your reader should be anticipating getting into the evidence and bulk of your paper. Organize the body.
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Here is the part where you have the most options. You have a number of sources and, since they're all on the same topic, they probably have loads in common. Choose whichever way seems the most natural to you for your specific focus. Arrange it chronologically. If you are dealing with varying opinions by era or changing trends over time, chronological organization may make the most sense.
Arrange it by publication. This organizational method fares well if each publication has a different stance. If there is a natural progression radical to conservative, for example between the sources, this works swimmingly.
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Arrange it by trend. If you are noticing patterns in your sources, arranging them by the trends they suggest may be the most obvious structure. Certain sources may, together, suggest one pattern that shifts over time, region, or other variable.
Arrange it thematically. This highly depends on your thesis statement and what sources you have chosen. The introduction explains the focus and establishes the importance of the subject. It discusses what kind of work has been done on the topic and identifies any controversies within the field or any recent research which has raised questions about earlier assumptions. It may provide background or history. It concludes with a purpose or thesis statement. In a stand-alone literature review, this statement will sum up and evaluate the state of the art in this field of research; in a review that is an introduction or preparatory to a thesis or research report, it will suggest how the review findings will lead to the research the writer proposes to undertake.
It notes major themes or topics, the most important trends, and any findings about which researchers agree or disagree. If the review is preliminary to your own thesis or research project, its purpose is to make an argument that will justify your proposed research. Therefore, it will discuss only that research which leads directly to your own project. The conclusion summarizes all the evidence presented and shows its significance.
If the review is an introduction to your own research, it highlights gaps and indicates how previous research leads to your own research project and chosen methodology. If the review is a stand-alone assignment for a course, it should suggest any practical applications of the research as well as the implications and possibilities for future research. Nine Steps to Writing a Literature Review. Look at your specific area of study. Think about what interests you, and what is fertile ground for study. Talk to your professor, brainstorm, and read lecture notes and recent issues of periodicals in the field.
Focus your topic narrowly and select papers accordingly. Read the selected articles thoroughly and evaluate them. Organize the selected papers by looking for patterns and by developing sub- topics. Write a one- or two-sentence statement summarizing the conclusion you have reached about the major trends and developments you see in the research that has been done on your subject. If your literature review is extensive, find a large table surface, and on it place post-it notes or filing cards to organize all your findings into categories. Move them around if you decide that a they fit better under different headings, or b you need to establish new topic headings.
Write the body of the paper. Follow the plan you have developed above, making certain that each section links logically to the one before and after, and that you have divided your sections by themes or subtopics, not by reporting the work of individual theorists or researchers. Look at what you have written; focus on analysis, not description.
Look at the topic sentences of each paragraph. If you were to read only these sentences, would you find that your paper presented a clear position, logically developed, from beginning to end? If, for example, you find that each paragraph begins with a researcher's name, it might indicate that, instead of evaluating and comparing the research literature from an analytical point of view, you have simply described what research has been done. This is one of the most common problems with student literature reviews. So if your paper still does not appear to be defined by a central, guiding concept, or if it does not critically analyse the literature selected, then you should make a new outline based on what you have said in each section and paragraph of the paper, and decide whether you need to add information, to delete off-topic information, or to re-structure the paper entirely.
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