To start organizing the argument and structure of your literature review, you need to understand the links and relationships between the sources you have read. Based on your readings and notes, you can search for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): Are certain approaches becoming more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur in the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do the sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: Are there any influential theories or studies that have changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from literature? Are there any weaknesses that need to be corrected?
This step will help you develop the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
Note that the literature review comes after the introduction in any article!
We will see later how to write your introduction (you already get some tips in previous lessons).
The introduction should clearly establish the direction and purpose of the literature review.
Thesis literature review
If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, repeat your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scientific background. You can highlight the topicality of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“although there has been a lot of research on x, few researchers have taken into consideration”).
Literature review of an article
If you are writing a stand-alone article, provide background information on the topic and its importance, discuss the scope of the literature you will be reviewing (eg, the time period of your sources), and state your purpose. What new perspective will you take from the literature?
It's important to show that you know the most important research on your topic. A thorough analysis of the literature convinces the reader that your project rests on a solid foundation of existing knowledge or theories. It also shows that you're not just repeating what other people have already done or said.
In this section, aim to demonstrate exactly how your project will contribute to conversations in the field.
- Compare and contrast: what are the main theories, methods, debates and controversies?
- Be critical: what are the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches?
- Show how your research fits into the framework: how will you develop, challenge or synthesize the work of others?
If you're not sure where to start, read our guide on how to write a literature review.
By going through the different sections of an article, you can try to find simple answers to "What", "How" and "Why". Follow the list to understand which answers you should try to find in each section of a research paper:
- What is the research question and how does the author try to answer it?
- Does the author make a hypothesis in the introductory part?
- Methods :
- What type of methods have been adopted?
- What was the sample size for data collection and how was it analyzed?
- Results :
- What were the most vital findings from the experiments conducted?
- Do the results confirm the hypothesis that was made?
- What is the final solution to the research paper's problem statement?
- What is the author's explanation for the results obtained?
- What is the inference drawn from the observations?
- What recommendations does the author make?
- What are the various limitations of the study conducted?
Much like the abstract, the purpose of an abstract for the research paper will be to give the audience a brief overview of what this study says. You will need to find out what information is relevant and explain it briefly but completely.
All the first drafts of your review articles should follow the order of the original article. The structure would look like this:
- State the research question and explain why it is important.
- Indicate the hypotheses that were tested.
- Describe the methods in a few paragraphs (participants, design, procedure, materials, independent and dependent variables, how they analyzed the data)
- Talk about the results and explain why they were significant.
- Indicate what the main implications were and do not overstate the importance of their findings.
- The results and their interpretation should be directly related to the hypothesis.
This first draft of writing the abstract of the research paper should focus on content rather than length. There is a good chance that more condensing will be needed, but this will have to be done after several proofreading to condense the information that will be useful to you.
A very important step is your discussion of the article. Any research work can be interpreted differently depending on the researchers and the context of the research. Thus, you must remain critical of the summary you propose. The last paragraph of your summary is therefore a critique or an interpolation of the paper in relation to your context and your problem.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you can divide the body into subsections. You can use a subtitle for each theme, period or approach methodological.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesise: outline the main points from each source and combine them into a cohesive whole
- Analyze and interpret: don't just paraphrase other researchers; add your own interpretations if possible, discussing the significance of the results in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically assess: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and thematic phrases to make connections, comparisons and contrasts
Step by step example
Here is an example in English of the construction of a state of the art.
Conclude your state of the art
In the conclusion, you should summarize the main findings you have drawn from the literature and highlight their importance.
Thesis literature review
If the literature review is part of your thesis or dissertation, show how your research fills gaps and brings new knowledge, or explain how you drew on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research .
Literature review of an article
If you are writing a stand-alone article, you can discuss the overall implications of the literature or make suggestions for future research based on the gaps you have identified.
To keep in mind
There are several reasons to do a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your subject
- To make sure you're not just repeating what others have done
- Identify knowledge gaps and unresolved issues that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and your methodology
- Provide an overview of the main findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will bring.