A literature review is not a book review or annotated bibliography. You must construct an analytical thesis that guides the reader through your understanding of the literature on your chosen topic. A properly composed literature review will thoroughly explain the scholarly conversation surrounding the sub-facets of your topic, and it will also demonstrate an original thesis that evaluates the literature's strengths and weaknesses. You are encouraged to include any conclusions about further research needs in the field.
Literature reviews should comprise the following elements:
- An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
- Division of works under review into categories
- Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
- Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research
In the introduction, you should:
- Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.
- Point out overall trends in what has 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.
- 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).
In the body, you should:
- Group research studies and other types of literature (case studies, etc.) according to common themes (or ideas, concepts, etc).
- Provide the reader with strong “umbrella” sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, “signposts" throughout, and brief “so what” summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.
In the conclusion, you should:
- Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.
- Evaluate the current state of the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.
- Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline or a profession.