Write a literature review to communicate your conclusions about how the literature addresses your research question. A well-written literature review reflects your scholarly accomplishment.

Preparation Tips

  • After synthesizing the literature, construct your argument.
  • Review your notes and findings with your argument in mind.
  • Create an outline that maps your argument.
  • Consult other literature reviews for models.

Writing Tips

  • State your argument early.
  • Indicate why your argument is important and how it contributes to the advancement of knowledge.
  • Delineate the scope of your review by discussing what will and will not be addressed.
  • Define terminology.
  • Describe relevant theories and construct topic relationships.
  • Properly cite studies used to advance your argument.
  • Present your conclusions, their implications, and possible directions for future research.

Remember: the literature review is an iterative process!

The following is a transcript of a video lecture available here.

In writing the literature review, your purpose is to communicate your conclusions about how the literature addresses your research question.

By the end of this e-lecture, you’ll be able to:

  • Outline a well-structured review
  • Construct and situate a clearly stated argument
  • Guide your reader from argument to conclusion

Before you begin to write, think about your voice and your reader. You want your writing to communicate your knowledge. You want to write with an awareness of your reader. You want your introduction to be clear and ‘hook’ your reader’s interest.

Using your notes, plan how individual research studies coherently and logically support your argument. Prepare an outline that maps the development of your argument from introduction to conclusion.

To inform your reader about the scope of your review, use the introduction to state what will and will not be covered.

For example, your research may have included international and national studies, but if you’ve chosen to limit supporting research to U.S.-based studies, it’s important to tell your reader about the rationale for your decision.

Clearly state your argument early in your writing. The argument introduces your reader to the topic and to your purpose. It structures your entire narrative and should convey the importance of your argument to your discipline.

For example, you may argue that

understanding student college choice is critical to developing college access programs.

But because this argument states a generally acknowledged relationship in the literature of college equity and access, there is no need to debate the point. An argument should present a view that someone might reasonably challenge. For example:

In the past decade, high school pre-college programs have failed to increase college acceptance and enrollment rates for middle-to-low achieving students.

Early on, introduce the key concepts used to organize and map your narrative. Throughout the literature review, define unfamiliar terminology for your reader. Your definitions are important for reader understanding.

In writing your narrative, use the literature to help your reader make sense of the knowledge you’re presenting on a topic. With relevant theories and topic relationships drawn from the literature, construct and present evidence for your argument. Your supporting evidence should highlight the relationships you’ve found and strategically present your ideas and key findings. Convey to your reader what you have learned, how you’ve interpreted, and why you’ve developed your argument as you have. The narrative should reflect your scholarly thought process from the introduction of your argument to its conclusion.

When you write, guide your reader through the narrative to ensure understanding. Provide a clear destination via ‘signposts.’ The introduction and conclusion are obvious signposts. Additional signposts might include section headings, subheadings, and transitional sentences.

Throughout the narrative, demonstrate your understanding of the theories and authors you review. Establish your position in relation to previous research. To ensure that your reader can easily distinguish your interpretations from the findings of the studies reviewed, carefully cite all sources.

Your review of the literature identifies what is known and not known about your research question. Because your review offers an examination of past and current research, you may be able to offer implications for practice and for future research. Remember, a well-written review reflects your scholarly accomplishment.

Student and Faculty Voices

Creative Commons License
The Literature Review: A Research Journey by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://guides.library.harvard.edu/literaturereview.