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Library DIY: Using Sources

What is a Literature Review and How do I write one?

The literature review is an important part of most research papers and is especially useful if you are doing original research. The literature review is typically one of the first sections of your paper.

In the literature review, you establish that you have an understanding of the different parts of the topic and the current and historical conversations on the different aspects of your topic. 

The point of a literature review is to educate your reader on the important and relevant research on this topic/question as well as make it clear why your research project is necessary and what it adds to the conversation. 

In order to write a really good literature review, you need to select important and relevant sources about your topic, understand them, and have a structure for how you'd like to organize them. 

Steps to writing a great literature review: 

  1. Select a working topic
  2. Read a lot of relevant academic literature on that topic
  3. Identify themes and sub-topics that emerge from your reading
  4. Identify key sources you might be missing
  5. Answer one or more of these questions in your mind to help you organize your review:
    1. How has how scholars think about this topic changed?
    2. What are the most important and most contested findings?
    3. What are the most important theories?
  6. Organize your literature review - develop headings and subheadings and note which sources will be discussed where (you might discuss a source in more than one place) 
  7. Write - Focus on analysis of the literature rather than just description
  8. Revise


Reading well and taking good notes are the two most important steps to writing a literature review.

Take good notes while you read, then use a grid/table to lay out sources by theme. 

  Theme 1 Theme 2 Theme 3
Source 1 In this source the author... NA This study did...
Source 2 NA NA Author notes that..

Source 3

Highlights importance of.. This research was conducted to... In this source the..