What is a Literature Review? 

When doing your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, you must include a literature review to position or build up your research within existing knowledge. However, you might also write it as a stand-alone assignment. Foremost, a literature review is an overview of current knowledge guided by a specific research question that allows the reader to identify theories, gaps, and methods in the existing research. It is based on a survey on a central topic. The writer critically analyzes relevant publications such as journal articles. The research used should represent the background and findings related to a specific research and question. The reader should be able to interpret & analyze data in a synthesized manner. Notably, a literature review is not a summary of sources but a critical evaluation that gives a clear picture of the know-how of the topic. Writing a well-researched literature review that shows you are fully aware of your subject topic is crucial. 

Always remember that a literature review gives you a chance to;

  • Show that you are aware of the topic and scholarly context
  • Enables you to develop a methodology and theoretical framework for your work
  • Acts as a platform for you to position yourself concerning other researchers
  • Shows a gap you identified and how you will close that gap
  • Provide relevant information that shows how your research adds knowledge to existing data 

 Steps for Writing a Top-Notch Literature Review

Here are the steps for writing a top-notch literature review.

1.Select a Topic

Always choose a specific topic to tackle based on your area of study. It is crucial to choose a topic that interests you. If you can’t pick a topic, request your professor to assist in brainstorming a topic based on a recent study. Always remember that the topic should represent research developed to a specific question and not loosely related studies. 

Tips for selecting a literature review topic

  • Ensure your topic is limited to a smaller topic and not a wider one to enable you to be more focused and specific.
  • Is the topic manageable? Know this before you begin.
  • Note down terms related to your question to help you understand your area of research.

2. Select Sources of Information

After identifying your topic, define your source selection criteria, such as books, articles, or journals published within a current date range or based on research focusing on a specific region or methodology. Also, have references that are contrary to your point of view so that you can challenge them. You can use the following questions to identify the most relevant sources.

What problem is the author addressing?

  • Can you identify the key concepts and how are they addressed?
  • Does the research have theories, methods, and models? Does the author use an innovative approach?
  • Does the work have reliable conclusions and results?
  • Does the work challenge or add knowledge to your topic of discussion? Does it make any contributions?

 Tip: Always ensure that sources are credible before using them.

3. Read your Research Sources Thoroughly and Evaluate them

Read the selected articles, books, databases, and any other source of information thoroughly. Evaluate the context of each and synthesize the studies’ findings and conclusions.

Before writing your literature review, takes note of the following;

  • Assumptions made by the researchers
  • Methodologies used, testing procedures, and subjects
  • Results, debates, and conflicting theories
  • Check whether the theories have changed over time or are still applicable. 

4. Organize your Points to have a Logical Flow

 It would be best to organize the selected articles, look for patterns, and develop subtopics. To do this successfully, you need to;

  • Note common findings
  • Identify crucial trends in research
  • Note most influential theories

 Always organize your findings into categories; put those with similarities under one heading. Come up with headings or subheadings that reflect patterns or major themes you identified.

Tip: Always remember that there are various approaches to structure your literature review. You can opt for chronologically, thematic, or a combination based on the length of your review.

i. Thematic

Use this method if you have come across recurring central themes. You can organize your literature into sub-sections that explain different subject aspects. For instance, if you review literature about the influence of social media in businesses, key themes might include technology advancement, the digital divide, social media impact, and Millennials and Generation Z.

 ii. Chronological

It is the simplest method; it involves tracing the development of the topic and organizing the sources in order. However, be careful to ensure that you don’t just list. Instead, analyze the patterns and significant debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Always give your interpretations and explain what caused certain developments.

iii. Theoretical

You might choose to argue the importance of a specific theoretical approach. You can also combine different theories, models, and key concepts to create a framework for your literature review. 

iv. Methodological

If your literature involves research from different fields, compare the conclusions and results from the different disciples. For instance, compare quantitative and qualitative results or divide the literature into cultural, sociological, and historical sources.

5. Develop a thesis or purpose statement

 After conducting your research, summarize your findings in one to two sentences. This should capture the major trends and developments you noted during your research. This will act as your thesis statement or purpose. 

6. Write the paper

Begin to write down the paper based on the organization structure you developed during the research. Include the headings and subheadings that you constructed. Let your work have a logical flow from one point to the other. Structure your sessions using themes or subtopics and not based on individual researchers’ work.

Notably, if your research paragraphs continuously begin with a researcher’s name, this might show that you are not focusing on your analytic point of view. In other words, you didn’t evaluate and compare, and you are just describing other researchers’ work. In this case, change your strategy and start giving your analytical viewpoint. In addition, like any other paper, your literature review should have an introduction, body, and conclusion. 

i. Introduction

You should clearly state the purpose and focus of your research. The introduction should capture the following;

  • Reasons for wiring the review and the importance of the topic
  • The aspects that will be covered in the literature review
  • What criteria will you use to select your literature, for instance, date range or type of sources used?
  • The pattern of review. 

ii. Body

If your body is long, divide it into subsections, each subsection can have a theme, timeframe, and methodological approach. You can also ensure that each section has a summary giving an overview of the main points. Also, write based on an understanding point of view and not just a summary of other researchers. Let your literature review include your interpretations showing the importance of your findings based on the whole literature. Critically review other sources showing their strengths and weaknesses. Also, use topic sentences and transition words to show comparison or draw connections.

iii. Conclusion

Ensure you summarize the significant findings from the different kinds of literature and emphasize their importance.

*****Sample of a Literature Review******

 Topic: Internal vs External Factors Churches Cite as Causes for Decline.

            According to Flatt (2018), individuals in a declining church are more likely to blame external factors for the decline in growth while individuals in growing churches take credit for themselves. According to the classical paradigm, the growth or decline of a church is not affects by the actions of a religious group or lack thereof. Instead, it is affected by larger social forces and long-term trends. These external social forces are usually out of individuals’ control as they erode their religious desires (Flatt, 2018). Decline in growth results from lack of change; people lose interest in the normal style, type, or version of religion used in the organization.

            Evidence shows that theologically conservative churches in Canada and the United States are more likely to experience growth compared to theologically liberal churches (Flatt, 2018). This is because theological conservative churches place a high demand on there and not on their theological positioning. Leaders in declining churches blame the lack of church-going tradition as one of the social factors leading to the decline. On the other hand, leaders in growing churches embrace an open religious market as see the region as an untapped opportunity for growth.  Clergy and attendees of a growing church and a declining church have a different view of what causes a church to grow or to decline.

The declining congregation believes competing Sunday activities to be a major reason for their decline in Sunday worship attendance (McMullin, 2013). The abolition of blue laws that kept stores and other activities closed on Sundays made more people doing their leisure activities and shopping on Sundays instead of attending church services. Children’s activities such as gaming and athletics are scheduled on Sundays instead of attending religious education. “In many North American communities, Sunday is quite different than it was a generation or two ago. Blue laws have mostly been dismantled, sports teams routinely practice on Sunday mornings, and malls are full of Sunday shoppers” (McMullin, 2013). To many believers, attending church on Sunday has moved from being a must-do to being an option. The change in the social environment has leaders and the congregation believe that the decline in growth is out of their control.

            According to Olson (2008), the failure to implement successful change in an organization result from internal barriers. External changes indirectly influence the internal changes of a church, both transformational, minor, and major (Douglas, 2019). Every aspect that makes up the church is influence to change by both internal and external pressures. Some of the external pressures are negative such as location, migration, or movement of key industries from the area. Voas (2016) noted that modernization has negatively influenced the beliefs and activities of religion, societal shifts during urbanization. Positive pressure that leads to growth in a church includes; development of a new ministry and a fresh vision from new leadership. This pressure influences the need for change for the church to remain relevant and effective. Change is a must to keep the church mission going in the evolving times.

***End of Sample***

Tip: Always maintain your voice despite your sources presenting other authors’ ideas. Your voice should be constant by starting and ending paragraphs using your ideas or words.

Steps to observe when reviewing your literature review

  • Always read your work, keenly look at every sentence, do they give a clear position? Is there logic from the start to the end? The topic sentences should always indicate the main points of your review.
  • Check whether you need to restructure your points, add information, or eliminate irrelevant details. The aim is to ensure your review is well outlined. 
  • Ensure you have covered all the crucial and up-to-date context to show that you are familiar with the subject. Also, for sciences, ensure you use recent data, which is not so crucial for humanities.
  • Eliminate all grammatical errors using grammar apps. Also, reread your work loudly. This helps identify any errors, including unclear sentences. Besides, your work should be unique and not plagiarized.
  • Give correct references and in-text citations using the appropriate style. 
  • Your research should be detailed, concise, and observable, given the academic style.

Conclusion

A literature review is based on a collection of literary texts from other people. How you write your review shows your understanding of the topic. It also shows gaps identified in other works and additions made. Ensure that your work maintains its uniqueness and informs your reader. 

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