A literature review is used to show that you have read, evaluated, and comprehended the published research on a particular topic. A literature review is structured to show to your professors that you understand the work that has been done in the past on a topic, and will serve as a jumping off point for whatever research you are conducting. It can either be a stand-alone document, or a section at the beginning of a research paper, master’s thesis, special project, or report. Writing a literature review will require you to locate published research on a topic, read those materials, and write a description and evaluation of the works.
STEP ONE: What is your topic?
What is your research project? You really can’t begin to write a literature review until you have determined what your own research is about. Determine the problem and the population you are studying.
STEP TWO: Time to visit the library!
Search the library catalog and relevant online databases, such as Social Work Abstracts and PsychInfo, to locate previously published research on your subject. This will involve finding books, journal articles, dissertations and theses, and possibly reports from governmental agencies or independent organizations.
STEP THREE: Read and think!
Read and critically evaluate each item that you have located. What are the researcher’s credentials? What kind of methodology was used? Do you find the research to be objective? Do you find the conclusions persuasive? How does the research contribute to your understanding of the issue that you are researching? Are the researchers saying the same things, or are they coming to different conclusions? What are the relationships between the articles? What has been said, and what has not been said? What are some areas for future research?
STEP FOUR: Start writing!
You may want to sort the materials you have read based on their different themes, theoretical foundations, or varying conclusions. Then, for each article, describe the research that was done and the conclusions of the authors. Discuss how that particular work contributes to the understanding of the subject that you are working on.