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Write a Literature Review

Any student pursuing advance coursework will need to write a literature review as part of a thesis or dissertation. A university professor may also ask students to write a literature review as a stand-alone document in a particular class. Here are the essential points to consider for anyone needing to write a literature review.

Refine the topic. A literature review is a discussion of existing research in a particular field of study. Before beginning to write a literature review, a student must determine the specific topic he or she is interested in researching. It is often helpful to phrase this topic as a hypothesis, a brief statement based on logical assumptions but not yet proved or disproved.

Conduct the search: the student then searches the existing literature to locate discussions relevant to his or her hypothesis. The university library's research librarian can assist the student in using the many indices and guides to periodical literature. Once the student has identified relevant literature, the librarian can locate copies in the library or through inter-library loan.

Categorize the findings. To write a literature review successfully, the student must first organize the relevant literature by the following categories. Those findings which support the student's hypothesis comprise one category; those which reject it comprise another; those which offer a completely different viewpoint on the subject comprise a third. This organizational step will help the student write a literature review that is balanced and comprehensive.

Write a literature review. The student now writes a literature review which reports on the various findings discussed in the relevant literature, and notes their significance with respect to the student's own research topic. If the literature review is part of a larger dissertation, very often the student will write a literature review that highlights a gap in the existing literature which the student intends to fill with his or her own in-depth research project. Whether one writes a stand-alone literature review or includes it in a dissertation, these steps are the same, and this blueprint can be used to write any literature review successfully.