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How To Write Literature Review

A literature review is a comparative study of existing research papers, theses, and dissertations published within a given academic field. Literature reviews can be assigned by university professors as stand-alone assignments, or as essential components of any master's or doctoral dissertation. Knowing how to write literature reviews is an essential skill for the advanced student. How to write literature review books are available in some libraries. Here are some useful tips on preparing and writing a successful literature review.

Focus: A literature review should be focused around a specific topic within the student's field of study. Before reviewing the literature, the student should arrive at a specific topic or hypothesis, and then begin gathering relevant materials that consider it.

Search: Once the student has determined the research topic, the search for relevant literature can begin. The student's university librarian can assist in conducting a search of the literature. How to write literature review guides are also available that discuss the search process. Indices are available listing papers and dissertations that have been published in the leading academic journals in the student's field. These listings will contain abstracts, or short summaries, of each paper or dissertation.

Select: Once the student has conducted a search and located abstracts of relevant literature, he or she will select those papers that have the most direct bearing on the topic at hand. If the library does not contain copies, the librarian can order them through inter-library loan. The student then reads each paper in detail, keeping those that speak most directly to the student's topic, and returning those of less relevance.

Organize: Once the student has read the literature, the findings and interpretations contained in these papers are organized into categories. Which sets of findings tend to support the student's hypothesis? Which tend to disagree with it? Which, if any, offer alternative hypotheses?

Write: Finally, the student is ready to write the actual literature review. If the above steps are completed diligently, writing the literature review will simply be a matter of discussing the existing literature and relating the various viewpoints to one another. The student's faculty advisor and reference librarian will know how to write literature reviews and will provide any further assistance that is needed at this point.