An Easy-to-Follow Guide for an Impeccable Literature Review

After a concise overture of the concerned discipline in the introductory section of a research paper or dissertation, the literature review should begin by delineating the significance of and the most critical works in that discipline. This handout provides six easy-to-follow steps for an impeccable literature review.


An Easy-to-Follow Guide for an Impeccable Literature Review

This handout provides six easy-to-follow steps for an impeccable literature review. To give you an opportunity to practice proofreading, we have left a few spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors in the text. See if you can spot them! If you spot the errors correctly, you will be entitled to a 10% discount.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a survey of academic sources on a specific subject, providing an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to discuss relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research. Writing a literature review contains finding relevant publications, critically analyzing the sources, and explaining your findings in the literature. A well-written literature review doesn’t only summarize sources, it also aims to analyze, synthesize, and critically evaluate to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the topic.

Why write a literature review?

After a concise overture of the concerned discipline in the introductory section of a research paper or dissertation, the literature review should begin by delineating the significance of and the most critical works in that discipline. This section, in any research paper or dissertation, is an accurate reflection of the authors’ familiarity and understanding of the concerned discipline. Thereby, compiling it methodically may appear daunting sometimes, especially to novice researchers. The following simple and straightforward tips can act as the exhaustive rubric and offer meaningful insight to prospective authors on how to formulate a flawless literature review.

Step 1. Probe similar works for a well-structured literature review

The foremost tip for any prospective author would deeply peruse the literature reviews in other research papers in the concerned field and acquire a fair idea about how they are composed. It should be clearly borne in mind that this step is to be followed only to get the hang of the outline of the literature review and not to replicate or simply rephrase any other related work.

Step 2. Analyze, not just synthesize: Authors should provide a detailed critique of the subject

Notwithstanding its significance, this section is often overlooked while writing and misconstrued as a segment that merely synthesizes and summarizes the existing research. Many time, authors fail to understand that for a good literature review, they should provide a detailed critique of the subject from their own standpoint, precisely enumerating the merits and pitfalls of the existing research works and the plausible solutions to overcome the latter. The authors should deem it imperative to highlight the gaps in the existing literature and elucidate in their work how their study addresses those gaps and contributes to the existing research. Even if there are certain gaps that their research may fail to bridge, they ought to identify them and outline them in future directions. Lastly, the authors should double-check to ascertain that they have not missed the most influential theories and the state-of-the-art works in their field.

Literature review

Step 3. Organize your literature review systematically

For coherence between consecutive sentences, the authors should organize the literature into multiple subsections. The grouping may be done chronologically or thematically. The former is straightforward and refers to tracing the temporal evolution of the topic, whereas the latter entails identifying discernible patterns among different research works and categorizing them into multiple subclasses. It shall be noted that such patterns may not be exactly specified in the existing research works, and the authors may need to detect them and provide a cogent explanation for such classification. Another interesting feature to highlight in this section could be inconsistencies in different theories.

Step 4. Establish the purview: Authors should specify the scope of the literature review

As it is impossible and impractical to summarize all the research works in a given field, the authors should specify the scope of the literature review and provide a rationale for not discussing any subtopics pertinent to the study. This is important to let any editor, reviewer, or a general reader know that the authors have full awareness of the field and have not missed any relevant subtopics heedlessly or unwittingly.

Step 5. Abstain from plagiarism

It is of paramount importance for the authors to ensure that they have not failed to cite the original source of any information, advertently or inadvertently. It could appear tempting, at times, to share some interesting data or statistics as one’s own, possibly by paraphrasing the original text. However, this will be considered blatant plagiarism and the research paper may potentially be desk rejected or never sent for peer review.

Step 6. Be mindful with the language

The authors are advised not to be demeaning in their words while contradicting some other author’s opinion or identifying flaws in their methodology. The inadequacies in other studies should be encapsulated in an objective, concise, and most importantly, bias-free manner. 

These elementary ground rules are beneficial for novice as well as experienced researchers and when followed earnestly, will most assuredly culminate in a profoundly meticulous review of the existing corpora in the concerned field.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to edit and proofread thoroughly before submitting. Looking for an expert to polish the language of your otherwise perfect literature review? Not a native speaker of English or an English language expert? Be sure to check out our professional editing and proofreading service!

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Literature review

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