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Writing a Literature Review:
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Writing a Literature Review

Writing a literature review involves locating as much literature as possible related to one's dissertation or research paper topic, choosing the most relevant research and discussion, and writing a stand-alone paper or section of a larger paper which discusses the current state of thinking and research in the field. Writing a literature review can be broken down into the following steps.

Define the topic. Before researching and writing a literature review, the student must frame his or her specific topic. The topic serves as a lens for viewing the body of literature in the field. It is advisable to frame the topic as a question, or a hypothesis statement that can be tested through research. The topic should be specific enough to make the research process manageable, yet general enough to be of wide interest in the field.

Search the literature. The student can now search the literature to locate research and discussions that have considered similar topics to the student's own. The student writing a dissertation on Shakespeare's comedies, for instance, might search the literature for other research papers dealing with Shakespeare's comedies, as well as with his tragedies and his plays in general prior to writing a literature review. The student will choose those examples of the literature which relate most closely with his or her topic and which contain thought-provoking discussions of the topic.

Review the literature. The student will now carefully read the literature he or she has gathered, making further choices about which examples bear most closely on the topic at hand. What statements are made by other researchers that the student will want to highlight in his or her own literature review? What conclusions are drawn from the research, and what research still needs to be undertaken?

Writing a literature review. Actually writing a literature review involves relating the prevailing statements made by leading scholars in the field, and briefly describing the research that supports these statements. In writing a literature review, the student should remember to view the literature through the focused lens of his or her own hypothesis or topic question. How does the literature answer the question the student has asked? What further answers are necessary? How has the literature failed to address the topic, and how will the student correct this gap in the research? Writing a literature review involves answering theses questions to lay the groundwork for the importance of the student's own research.