A literature review is an overview of all the sources that you have used to write a research paper. However, a literature review is not the same as a reference list so it’s not just an enumeration of writings. Not only does it need to summarize the sources you’ve used, but it should also give an explanation why exactly you did so. This part of a paper needs to be informative and give the reader an insight into your way of thinking. You have to explain what input each source had and what value it presented. If you struggle with writing a literature review, here are some useful tips.
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Why a Literature Review Matters
Besides its initial purpose that we’ve already mentioned in the introduction, a literature review also has other meanings. First of all, it reflects the importance of the paper through the importance of articles that have been used. If there is a lot written on the given topic, it shows that it’s important today. Second, the literature review of one writer can become an inspiration for others. Many young scientists use existing papers as the basis of their own and having a literature review to start with can be very helpful. Finally, it narrows down the focus on the paper so that the readers can get a clear idea already from reading the review.
Search the Needed Information
After the topic of your research paper is established and approved, you can start the literature search. With all the access to information nowadays, it really shouldn’t be a challenge to find enough sources for whatever topic you’re dealing with. In fact, the problem you’re likely to encounter is information overload. Then it might be difficult to filter all sources and pick up only the most essential ones. To do this, you need to know a few tricks.
When studying your sources, pay extra attention to the following things:
- Is the author of the text a reputable figure in your field of study? If no, are you sure that their opinion can be trusted considering that they are not a professional?
- Can the article be interpreted in multiple ways or is its meaning a clear-cut?
- Is the author convincing enough? Do they use valid arguments and base their information on valid sources?
When you read a ton of articles and books on the same subject, it’s very difficult to hold all the data in your head in the right and organized order. The more sources you study, the more confusing it will become so taking notes is essential. It might seem time-consuming and useless, but once you start puzzling everything together in the literature review, you’ll be very grateful for having made notes.
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Finally, the main task you need to do in a literature review is to analyze your sources. Avoid just describing them – your reasoning behind including them in the paper is what matters. You can compare them, highlight strong and weak points, or criticize approaches to show that you’ve gained a deep understanding of what you’ve studied.