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Writing: Literature Review Basics
- What is Synthesis?
- Organizing Your Research
- Paraphrasing, Summary, or Direct Quotation?
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The Job of the Conclusion
The job of the conclusion is, quite literally, to conclude ... or to wrap things up so the reader feels a sense of closure. It accomplishes this by stepping back from the specifics in order to view the bigger picture of the document. In other words, it is reminding the reader of the main argument.
Whereas an introduction started out generally and moved towards discussion of a specific focus, the conclusion takes the opposite approach. It starts by reminding the reader of the contents and importance of your findings and then moves out gradually to more general topics.
For most written assignments, the conclusion is a single paragraph. It does not introduce any new information; rather, it succinctly restates your chief conclusions and places the importance of your findings within your field. Depending upon the purpose of the literature review, you may also include a brief statement of future directions or self-reflection.
Here is an easy checklist for writing a conclusion:
Is the main argument of the paper accurately restated as the first sentence (but is not copied verbatim?
In a literature review, you basicaly want to answer the question, "What did I find out? What conclusions did I come to?" Giving the reader a one-sentence answer to this question that provides a summary of your findings is a solid way to begin a conclusion.
What recommendations do you have?
Here you may offer the reader your suggestions on what you think should happen next. You can make recommendations that are specific to the evidence you have uncovered, or you can make recommendations for future research. When this area is well done, it links to previous conclusions you have already made and gives the conclusion a finished feeling.
Did you remind the reader of the importance of the topic and how it can contribute to the knowledge in the field?
Make sure that the paper places its findings in the context of some kind of needed change, relevance, or solution. If you addressed why the topic was interesting, important, or relevant in your introduction, you can loop back to that here. Other ways that can be done are to remind the reader of other research you have discussed and how your work builds upon theirs, or what gaps there may yet be to explore.
Keep these items in mind as "what not to do":
Is there a sense of closure without using words such as "In conclusion?"
If you have to use the words "In conclusion" or similar ones to launch your conclusion so the reader knows the end is near, you've got a problem. Make sure the reader has a distinct sense that the paper has come to an end without telling them it is ending. It is important to not leave the reader hanging.
Did you avoid presenting any new information?
No new ideas should be introduced in the conclusion. It is simply a review of the material that is already present in the paper. The only new idea would be the suggesting of a direction for future research.
Stigmatization of the mentally ill is caused by the public’s belief in myths about the dangerousness of the mentally ill and exposing those myths can reduce stigmatization. At least one-third of the people sampled in one study said that they would both reject socially and fear violence from someone displaying behaviors associated with different mentally illnesses. Other research discovered that this rejection is associated to lack of contact with the mentally ill and that as contact increased, fear of the mentally ill decreased. The direction of the relationship between fear and rejection seems to be that fear (possibly based upon myths about mental illness) causes rejection. Taken as a whole, it appears that exposing these myths as myths increases the acceptance of the mentally ill and that staged contact with a mentally person to expose myths has an even more powerful effect. Caution must be advised, though; Martin et al.’s (2002) and Alexander and Link’s (2003) studies and the first study of Corrigan et al. (2002) were based upon paper and pencil methodologies. And while Corrigan et al.’s (2002) second study involved staged Myths of violence 6 presentations, it was conducted in a college setting with a college sample. Future research should replicate these findings in more natural settings with different populations.
Now let's break that down.
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The structure of a literature review
A literature review should be structured like any other essay: it should have an introduction, a middle or main body, and a conclusion.
The introduction should:
- define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature;
- establish your reasons – i.e. point of view – for
- reviewing the literature;
- explain the organisation – i.e. sequence – of the review;
- state the scope of the review – i.e. what is included and what isn’t included. For example, if you were reviewing the literature on obesity in children you might say something like: There are a large number of studies of obesity trends in the general population. However, since the focus of this research is on obesity in children, these will not be reviewed in detail and will only be referred to as appropriate.
The middle or main body should:
- organise the literature according to common themes;
- provide insight into the relation between your chosen topic and the wider subject area e.g. between obesity in children and obesity in general;
- move from a general, wider view of the literature being reviewed to the specific focus of your research.
The conclusion should:
- summarise the important aspects of the existing body of literature;
- evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed;
- identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge;
- outline areas for future study;
- link your research to existing knowledge.
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Concluding Your Literature Review
In the previous blogs, we talked about searching and assessing reference papers for your literature review , and shared tips on organising and writing the content . Let’s look now at how to conclude your literature review.
One of the aims of writing the literature review is to define the purpose and contribution of your own study. Your review should therefore cover the points listed below to provide the rationale or justification for your study:
⦁ gaps in the research
⦁ limitations of previous studies
⦁ weaknesses or lack of support for existing theories
- et al.' means 'and others'.
- Use 'et al.' to cite works with three or more authors.
- The presentation (et al., et al., or rarely et al) depends on the style guide or journal guidelines
The English language has a rich history of borrowing words from other languages, especially from Latin. Latin abbreviations such as ‘a.m.’, ‘p.m.’ and ‘CV’ have become part of our everyday vocabulary. Such abbreviations are also frequently used in academic writing, from the ‘Ph.D.’ in the affiliation section to the ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’, ‘et al.’, and ‘QED’ in the rest of the paper.
This guide explains when and how to correctly use ‘et al.’ in a research paper.
In this guide:
- 1) Meaning of ‘et al.’
- a) Table: Correct use of ‘et al.’ by style guide
- b) Unusual scenarios
Filling a Gap is Not a Rationale in itself
You need to state clearly what your study intends to achieve and why it is important.
It is not sufficient to simply say something like, “there is a gap in the research or literature”. Your readers might think that the gap exists only because there is no reason to fill such gap.
Then what should you consider including in the conclusion of your literature review?
1. Purpose or Objective of Your Study
First, you must be clear about what the purpose or objective of your study is. For example, you need to make it clear whether your study:
⦁ is designed to answer a specific question or solve a specific problem
⦁ is an experimental study looking for a cause and effect relationship
⦁ is a correlational study looking for relationships between variables
⦁ compares different clinical or psychological treatments or interventions
⦁ presents a new technique or an adaptation of an existing one
⦁ is a meta-analysis or review of previous studies
2. Significance of your Study
Try to be specific about the significance of your study and have a clear idea about what or who will benefit from it.
To give you some examples, a benefit might include:
⦁ advancing an existing theory or developing a new one
⦁ providing a new technique that will benefit future researchers
⦁ presenting a new material or product, or refining an existing one that will benefit industry
⦁ proposing a treatment or intervention that will aid clinicians and patients
⦁ providing evidence that can be used to improve government policy-making
Steps to Writing your Literature Review Conclusion
It is important to remember that the conclusion only needs to be a few sentences long. So, do not write too much.
You can follow the steps and adapt the sample expressions listed below:
Step #1: Start with a sentence to highlight the research gap
You may consider using one of these examples:
Despite the aforementioned theoretical inferences, no study to date has provided empirical support for the hypothesized effects
Step #2: State what you did to address the problem
Try using a sentence similar to one of these:
Therefore, in a series of experiments, we explored the direct effects of a on b and c, and tested whether m had a moderating influence on these effects
Step #3: Summarise how the findings will contribute to theory and/or practice
You may consider writing in one of these ways:
The results not only provide support for the theory, but also have practical implications for industry and government decision makers
Confirmation of the suitability of the intervention in this population will provide an alternative choice of treatment for this condition, which will benefit both patients and clinicians.
Putting those sample expressions together, we have the following example literature review conclusions.
“Given the lack of evidence for the applicability of this psychological intervention in Asian populations, we conducted a randomised control trial with a sample of patients who attended the clinic at ABC Hospital. Confirmation of the suitability of the intervention in this population will provide an alternative choice of treatment for this condition, which will benefit both patients and clinicians.”
But, always remember that the wording you use will differ depending on the nature of your study.
And no matter how different the wording you use is, the fundamental elements of this summary should not change, you must cover the following:
⦁ make clear the research gap
⦁ explain how you set out to address the problem
⦁ and why it was important to do so
Wondering why some abbreviations such as ‘et al.’ and ‘e.g.’ use periods, whereas others such as CV and AD don’t? Periods are typically used if the abbreviations include lowercase or mixed-case letters. They’re usually not used with abbreviations containing only uppercase letters.
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How do I Write a Literature Review?: #5 Writing the Review
- Step #1: Choosing a Topic
- Step #2: Finding Information
- Step #3: Evaluating Content
- Step #4: Synthesizing Content
- #5 Writing the Review
- Citing Your Sources
WRITING THE REVIEW
You've done the research and now you're ready to put your findings down on paper. When preparing to write your review, first consider how will you organize your review.
The actual review generally has 5 components:
Abstract - An abstract is a summary of your literature review. It is made up of the following parts:
- A contextual sentence about your motivation behind your research topic
- Your thesis statement
- A descriptive statement about the types of literature used in the review
- Summarize your findings
- Conclusion(s) based upon your findings
Introduction : Like a typical research paper introduction, provide the reader with a quick idea of the topic of the literature review:
- Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern. This provides the reader with context for reviewing the literature.
- Identify related trends in what has already been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
- Establish your reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope) -
Body : The body of a literature review contains your discussion of sources and can be organized in 3 ways-
- Chronological - by publication or by trend
- Thematic - organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time
- Methodical - the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the "methods" of the literature's researcher or writer that you are reviewing
You may also want to include a section on "questions for further research" and discuss what questions the review has sparked about the topic/field or offer suggestions for future studies/examinations that build on your current findings.
Conclusion : In the conclusion, you should:
Conclude your paper by providing your reader with some perspective on the relationship between your literature review's specific topic and how it's related to it's parent discipline, scientific endeavor, or profession.
Bibliography : Since a literature review is composed of pieces of research, it is very important that your correctly cite the literature you are reviewing, both in the reviews body as well as in a bibliography/works cited. To learn more about different citation styles, visit the " Citing Your Sources " tab.
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When you began looking through this book, you may have already been an accomplished researcher and writer. As a student, you may have had both research and writing experiences as an undergraduate that prepared you for your first graduate-level literature review. For most graduate students, however, many of the concepts and skills needed to successfully complete this high-stakes document will be new. And, while developing these skills is not always a linear process, the effort put into acquiring them will serve you throughout both your academic and professional life.
Here is a quick review of the main points from each of the chapters in this book:
- The purpose of a literature review is to survey the current state of knowledge in the area of inquiry; to identify key authors, articles, theories, and findings in that area; and to identify gaps in knowledge in that research area. (Chapter 1)
- Accepts another researcher’s finding as valid without evaluating methodology and data
- Neglects to consider or mention contrary findings and alternative interpretations
- Findings are not clearly related to one’s own study or findings are too general.
- Allows insufficient time to define best search strategies and writing
- Simply reports individual studies rather than synthesizing the results
- Problems with selecting and using most relevant keywords and descriptors are evident.
- Relies too heavily on secondary sources
- Does not record or report search procedures
- Summarizes rather than synthesizes (Chapter 1)
- By understanding what the literature in your field is, as well as how and when it is generated, you begin to know what is available and where to look for it. (Chapter 2)
- Most graduate-level literature reviews begin with choosing a relevant, appropriate, interesting topic and then changing it. (Chapter 3)
- Search and discovery of the literature is an iterative process. There are many places to look and many tools and techniques to use to find resources. Advanced researchers master this skill early on and refine it with each project. (Chapter 4)
- You searched the literature and found lots of relevant resources. How do you now determine whether each item is an appropriate fit for your own review? (Chapter 5)
- How will your resources be organized (alphabetically or chronologically)? By broad general theme or theory? Based on a type of methodology or population? What citation management program or software are you going to use to keep track of all your references? (Chapter 6)
- Your literature review is not a summary of all the articles you read but rather a synthesis that demonstrates a critical analysis of the papers you collected as well as your ability to integrate the results of your analysis into your own literature review. (Chapter 7)
- Like any effective argument, the literature review is about both content and form. It should have logical and smooth flow, a clear introduction and conclusion, and use a consistent citation style throughout. (Chapter 8)
Remember: Writing a good literature review takes time. Start early. Begin thinking about your topic and collect references even while you work on other tasks. Write a first draft and then revise. Go over the language, style, and form. Focus, sharpen, clarify, and search again. When you are satisfied with the result, you’re done.
How is the literature review evaluated?
It is usually judged in three main areas:
- Have you clearly indicated the scope and purpose of the review?
- Have you included a balanced coverage of what is available?
- Have you included the most recent and relevant studies?
- Have you included enough material to show the development and limitations in this area?
- Have you indicated the source of the literature by referencing accurately?
- Have you used mostly primary sources or appropriate secondary sources?
- Have you clearly (and logically) ordered and sorted the research, focusing on themes or ideas rather than the authors?
- Does the review move from broader concepts to a more specific focus?
- Is there adequate critique of research limitations, including design and methodology?
- How do the studies compare or contrast with debates or controversies highlighted?
- Is the relevance to your problem clear?
- Have you made an overall interpretation of what is available?
- Do the implications provide theoretical or empirical justification for your own research questions/hypothesis?
- Do the implications provide a rationale for your research design? (RMIT University)
Many instructors use rubrics to evaluate literature reviews. For a sample of a literature review rubric that may also serve as a checklist for evaluating your own review before submitting, see Holmlund (2019) also listed in the Additional Resources section for this chapter.
We hope that this discussion about literature reviews is useful. After reading this guide, and reviewing the additional resources and activities in each chapter, we hope you have a better understanding of the research and writing process. What conclusions have you reached regarding the content and structure of a literature review that can answer the question, “How do I write a graduate-level literature review?”
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Booth, A., Sutton, Anthea, & Papaioannou, Diana. (2016). Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
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Coughlan, M., & Cronin, Patricia. (2017). Doing a Literature Review in Nursing, Health and Social Care (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Fink, A. (2014). Conducting Research Literature Reviews (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Galvan, J.L. (2009). Writing Literature Reviews: A Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Glendale, CA : Pyrczak
Garrard, J. (2017). Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy: The Matrix Method . Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Holmlund, T. (2019). Sample Literature Review . Washington State University Vancouver. CC-BY-NC 4.0
Machi, L.A., & McEvoy, B.T. (2012). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Milardo, R.M. (2015). Crafting Scholarship in the Behavioral and Social Sciences: Writing, Reviewing, and Editing . New York: Routledge.
Pautasso M. (2013). Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. PLoS Computational Biology 9(7): e1003149. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149
Petticrew, M., & Roberts, H. (2006). Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Wallace, M., & Wray, A. (2016). Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
RMIT University (n.d.). Writing the literature review/Using the literature. https://www.dlsweb.rmit.edu.au/lsu/content/2_assessmenttasks/assess_pdf/PG%20lit%20review.pdf
Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students Copyright © by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.