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Tips on writing your Literature Review

Graduate research and thesis writing: planning and preparing. (Part 7 of a series.)

In this series, we provide general information that should apply to most graduate students, particularly in the United States and Canada. While there are some differences in terminology between the UK and the US, most everything else applies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Literature Review

The Literature Review is the next important step in your thesis introduction. Different from an annotated bibliography, the review of the literature you have used (books, journal articles, periodicals, etc.), should:

  1. Review your discipline style: APA, Chicago, Harvard, and so on.
  2. Show that you are familiar with the essential background information on your topic.
  3. Help your reader understand your thesis.
  4. Tell your reader what has already been written about your topic.
  5. Show that your thesis is original and has not already been covered by someone else.
  6. Show where your study will fit in with the current body of literature on the topic and within your field. Think in terms of “what gap will my project fill?”

Remember: the literature review is not a list. It should be a comprehensive analysis and review of all of the relevant literature you have chosen to study.

The process of writing the review should also help you to categorise the literature and thus provide some sort of structure to the review. This will help keep it clear in your mind and simplify comprehension for your readers.

In analysing the literature, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the key terms and concepts?
  • How relevant is this article to my specific topic?
  • What trends and patterns emerge?
  • How has the author structured his or her argument?
  • How credible is the source?
  • What differences and similarities exist between this source and the others?
  • Are there gaps in the literature (areas that have not been covered) that need further study?

Structure: Introduction

 The literature review is structured the same as an essay, with an introduction and a thesis statement.

  • Discuss why you are writing the review, and why the topic is important. Include a concise definition of the topic under consideration.
  • Discuss the scope of the review (not the overall thesis/dissertation). For example, you may decide to limit your review to published or unpublished works, works from a specific location or time period, conflict, language, etc.
  • Outline the criteria you used for your particular choices of literature and show the organisational pattern of the review.
  • State the general findings: what do most sources conclude? What is the availability of sources in your subject area?

Body Paragraphs

This is where you organise your evaluations of your sources. You may want to organise them around chronological or thematic approaches, but there are many other ways to organise your literature review.

You should summarise and critically evaluate each work for its premise, methodology, and conclusion.  This is where you can address any inconsistencies, errors, or omissions as well as the accuracy, depth, and relevance of the literature.

As always, use smooth transitions between paragraphs and to connect one source with another.

Conclusion

Conclude by summarising your key findings of the review in general terms. This is a good place to discuss favoured works, commonalities or agreements (or disagreements) between works, and any other important points you need to make, as well as reiterating your overall perspective on the topic.

Lastly, don’t forget to make sure you have used accurate in-text citations in your review.