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Tutoring Service: Writing a Literature Review

Overview of the Avondale University Tutoring Service.

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Purpose of a Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to provide a written overview of the existing literature on a particular topic. In other words, a literature review analyses what has already been written about your chosen topic. A literature review is often associated with a research proposal or project, identifies gaps in current knowledge, and aims to address these gaps.

Writing a Literature Review

Here at Avondale an assignment that requires you to write a literature review will generally be asking you to analyse a particular issue by researching it in scholarly journals.

Research

As you search the literature to research your topic, ask yourself these questions:

  • What has already been said on this topic?
  • What are the current theories and hypotheses?
  • Who are the main contributors?
  • What questions are being asked?
  • What methodologies are appropriate and useful?

Consider the importance of primary sources versus secondary sources. Your lecturer may specifically guide you in this area. Primary sources are a first-hand account of the author’s experience of an event or understanding of a topic, and secondary sources involve analysis, discussion, and interpretation of the original research (UNSW, 2021, para. 4; NCU Library; 2021a, para. 2; NCU Library, 2021b, para. 4).

Planning a Literature Review

Before you can organise the structure of your literature review, you must not only read the articles, but also understand the connections and relationships between the articles you have chosen. This is where you need to spend time looking for patterns in the research. You should look for • trends and patterns in theory, method or results—do certain approaches become more or less popular over time? • themes—what questions or concepts keep coming up across the literature? • debates, conflicts and contradictions—where do sources disagree? • pivotal publications—are there any influential studies that changed the direction of the field? • gaps—what is missing from the literature?

Structuring a Literature Review

Begin by writing a draft plan that meets all of the components outlined for your assignment. Use headings with bullet points underneath each heading to help keep your research and writing organised and focused. A literature review follows a similar format to an academic essay. Your paper will generally include an abstract, introduction, body, conclusion and reference list. Abstract Your abstract should provide a clear overview of the purpose and key contents of a paper, as well as any relevant findings and conclusions. In a publishing setting, your abstract may be the only part of your paper read, so it is important to write a concise synopsis of what your paper covers, as it helps the reader to decide whether or not your article is useful in their research. Students are sometimes confused by the difference between an abstract and an introduction.

Abstract

Your abstract should provide a clear overview of the purpose and key contents of a paper, as well as any relevant findings and conclusions. In a publishing setting, your abstract may be the only part of your paper read, so it is important to write a concise synopsis of what your paper covers, as it helps the reader to decide whether or not your article is useful in their research. Students are sometimes confused by the difference between an abstract and an introduction.

Introduction

This is an important paragraph as it provides a guide to the rest of your review. Please note, the bullet points below are to help you organise your thoughts. Your introduction must be a cohesive paragraph of full sentences that provides a context for your paper.

  • Begin with a general statement (one or two sentences) about your chosen research topic. This statement should identify the context (background/need) for your research.
  • Outline the key areas that your review will cover, in the order you will cover them. These key areas will be based on the connections and relationships between the articles you are reviewing. Key areas you may consider include comparing the main findings of your articles; comparing the research design and methodology of your articles; comparing similarities and differences of your articles; and exploring strengths and weaknesses of your articles.
  • Finally, your literature review should also include a thesis/purpose statement that summarises the overall focus/argument of your paper. It could begin as simply as—The purpose of this literature review is… 

Body

The body of your review will be made up of a number of paragraphs that work through each of the key areas you are exploring. In the body of your review you should:

  • Ensure each paragraph focuses on only one main idea.
  • Build the points you are making in a logical order.
  • Clearly link the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next.
  • Remember to link your key areas to each other.

Conclusion

The conclusion of your paper should provide a summary of the current knowledge of the topic and no new information should be introduced at this point in your paper.

  • Reiterate your thesis/purpose statement.
  • Provide a clear summary of the key areas of your paper.

Reference List

Make sure you remain organised with your sources. You may use a program such as EndNote to help you. Remember, every source cited in your paper must also appear in your reference list.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

PRIMARY SOURCES

These are original documents or original research.

  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Speeches
  • Academic research (generally printed in scholarly journals

SECONDARY SOURCES

These are works that synthesise, summarise, and/or interpret primary sources.

  • Encyclopedias
  • Histories
  • Reviews
  • Textbooks
  • Magazine articles
  • Biographies

FYI:

This resource page has been developed to help you write a literature review, however, your lecturer may have specific ideas of what should and shouldn't be included in your assignment. Always ask your lecturer if unsure.