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Literature searching and referencing

Literature searching.

Literature Searching is the process of performing a thorough search of available literature (journal articles, books, official reports etc.) to determine what is already known, and not known, on a research topic. It is often closely linked to the Literature Review, where the aim is to establish where new or current research fits into the existing body of knowledge. Literature Searching can be thought of as an iterative process - in part because researchers need to keep up-to-date on the latest research relevant to their topic area as it is published, but also because the process of performing searches may need to be refined a number of times before the goal of having searched all available literature has been met.

Planning a literature search

To carry out an effective literature search you will need to plan your search by:

  • Developing a search strategy.  This helps to ensure your approach to literature searching is consistent across each database used.  Our  Developing a Search Strategy worksheet (DOCX 62KB)  will help you to identify the key search terms and synonyms from your research question, and how to combine them using Boolean operators. Our  Keyword and subject heading searching video (duration 5:59)  highlights the differences between keyword and subject heading search techniques.
  • Identifying the relevant databases to search in your subject area. For the majority of research needs, using a combination of bibliographic databases is the most effective method for getting comprehensive results when literature searching.  Our Searching the databases worksheet (DOCX 88KB)  introduces some of the key databases and platforms recommended for the majority of researchers.  For further guidance on the databases to choose when literature searching, you can:
  • Consult our  Guides , to find databases by subject area.
  • Go to Database Search in FindIt@Bham and browse databases by Resource Subject.
  • Browse our  videos  which provide an overview of key databases by subject area.

Literature searching for a Systematic Review

A Systematic Review is a formal research study that aims to find, assess and analyse the existing evidence that meets a specific set of criteria, in order to answer a precise research question. Systematic Reviews follow a clear, predefined structure and often take many months to complete.  Our  Guide to Systematic Reviews  provides a further introduction, including information on how a Systematic Review differs to other Reviews .  A fuller definition is provided by  Cochrane - specialists in advocating the use of evidence-based research like systematic reviews to inform decision-making in health and health care.

Library Services subscribes to  Cochrane Interactive Learning , an online introductory training course providing over 10 hours of self-directed learning on the complete Systematic Review process. The course is suitable for both new and experienced Systematic Review authors. Registration is required when you first access the course – please follow the guidelines on the  Cochrane Interactive Learning  FindIt@Bham record. 

Our  Research Skills Team  supports researchers with developing the skills required for the literature searching aspect of Systematic Reviews.

Training and Support

The Research Skills Team offers a range of literature searching  training and support  for researchers.

Please note that taught students can access support from the  Academic Skills Centre .

Referencing

Referencing is an important part of academic life, enabling you to:

  • Acknowledge an intellectual debt, thereby avoiding plagiarism
  • Give supporting evidence for your ideas and arguments
  • Provide readers with the information they need to verify, or follow up on, your sources

Our  iCite Guide contains examples of specific referencing styles to help guide the correct use of the referencing style appropriate to your discipline. If you are a postgraduate researcher (PGR) and need guidance as to the appropriate referencing style to use, please consult with your supervisor(s) and/or School handbook in the first instance.

Reference Management software

There is a range of Reference Management software solutions available to help make the process of managing your references more straightforward.  Library Services recommends that research students (MRes, PhD etc.), researchers, and academic members of staff use EndNote Desktop . More information about EndNote (including how to obtain the software and training opportunities) is available on our EndNote Desktop webpages .

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Writing a literature review

Research output : Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding › Chapter

T1 - Writing a literature review

AU - Becker, Saul

AU - Bryman, A

PY - 2004/1/1

Y1 - 2004/1/1

M3 - Chapter

BT - Understanding Research for Social Policy and Practice: Themes, Methods and Approaches

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Methodology

  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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how to write a literature review university of birmingham

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key 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 contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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How to Write a Literature Review

Samuels, P. (2016) How to Write a Literature Review. Technical Report. ResearchGate, Birmingham, UK.

A literature review is not just a sequence of summaries or critiques of selected sources (this is known as an annotated bibliography). Rather, it should take the form of a critical discussion, showing insight and an awareness of differing arguments, theories, methods and findings. It should analyse and synthesise relevant published works.

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

A Guide to Conducting Reviews: Literature Review

  • Literature Review
  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Scoping Review
  • Rapid Review
  • Umbrella Review
  • How and Where to Search?
  • Courses and Webinars
  • Helpful Tools
  • Service Charter
  • Online Consultation Form
  • Publications Co-authored by AUB University Librarians
  • Subject librarians

Tips for Conducting a Literature Review

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

Tips for conducting a literature review (from University of Edinburgh)

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

Definition :  A literature/narrative review identifies, summarizes, and critically analyzes what has been previously published on a specific topic.

Aim : To  give readers a comprehensive overview of the topic and to highlight significant areas of research.  A literature review can also help identify gaps in the research.

Key characteristics :  A literature review has a wide scope and follows a non-standardized methodology. Search strategies, comprehensiveness, and time range vary and do not follow an established protocol.

Structure : A literature review may be chronological (traces a topic's development over time), methodological (compares the results that emerge from using different methods), thematic (addresses different aspects of the topic), or theoretical (discusses various theories, models and concepts). 

Main steps : 

  • Select a topic (define your research scope)
  • Locate relevant literature (identify key texts)
  • Briefly critique and reflect on view (read key texts, analyze and evaluate critically)
  • Write the paper (synthesize and organize)

Strengths:  Sets the context for your research and provides the framework for interpreting the results fo your research. Does not take long time to complete.

Drawbacks/Limitations :  The authors may not clearly state the methodology used, and may be selective in presenting evidence to support a particular, pre-existing view. Selectivity of materials used by the author(s) makes it susceptible to bias.

Source : USU Libraries. (2017, September 26).  Conducting a literature review  [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuV9WawChwc

Further Reading: e-Books

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Systematic Reviews

  • Systematic and Other Reviews
  • Systematic Review - Definitions
  • Key Elements of a Review
  • Critical appraisal
  • Other Reviews

Further Resources and Suggested Reading

  • Resource List - Literature Reviews Resource list from resourcelists@bham

Openly available resources on systematic reviews 

  • PROSPERO  - International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews This register includes protocol details for systematic reviews.
  • PRISMA  -  P referred  R eporting  I tems for  S ystematic  R eviews and  M eta- A nalyses
  • AMSTAR  - Assessing the Methodological Quality of Systematic Reviews 
  • EQUATOR   - Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research. Library of reporting guidelines and also links to other resources relevant to research reporting and writing.
  • PRESS  - Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 Guideline Statement (2016)
  • MOOSE  - Meta-analysis Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology

(From Research Skills Team Canvas course: Literature Searching for Researchers - requires University of Birmingham login).

Cochrane Foundation

The Cochrane Interactive Learning Resource is available to University of Birmingham members (or others with an institutional subscription). This is a valuable learning tool which explores the systematic review process in more detail.

The Cochrane Foundation has a very detailed online handbook, Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (Higgins et al ., 2022). This is aimed at authors preparing Cochrane Systematic Reviews*.

Chapters include, for example:

  • Searching for and selecting studies
  • Economic evidence (useful for Health Economics areas such es economic evaluation)

As of August 2023, the Cochrane Foundation announced updates and "some major changes" to its processes ( Cochrane Foundation, 2023 ).

Data and Digital Skills

If you are looking for help or information about statistical software related to data extraction, such as SPSS or NVivo, see the University of Birmingham  Digital Skills (UoB)  page or the Mathematics Support Centre information on Statistics Resources .   University of Birmingham members and others with institutional access can access video learning materials on the above on   LinkedIn Learning .

Dalhousie University Libraries' Systematic Reviews guide has a section on  Data Extraction .

Referencing Software

Software can be invaluable in storing and managing references from multiple sources and citing these in documents. At the University of Birmingham, the web-based EndNote Online is supported for undergraduate (UG) and taught postgraduate (PGT) students.  The separate, downloadable EndNote Desktop programme is supported for doctoral (PhD), post-doctoral and other academic researchers and staff. 

  • Referencing software at the University of Birmingham  (iCite Guide page)

Risk of Bias Tools

A thorough literature search using a range of bibliographic databases – and grey literature if required - will reduce any perceived risk of bias in studies selected for a Review. 

Further information and tools to minimize or assess Risk of Bias can be found for example on the following:

  • Risk of Bias 2 (RoB 2) Tool – Cochrane Foundation
  • Riskofbias.info
  • ROBIS tool - University of Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences
  • Systematic review toolbox - Marshall et al . (2022)
  • Considering bias and conflicts of interest among the included studies (Boutron et al ., 2022 )

Students are advised to discuss these tools directly with their tutor(s) if required to use them.

Other Tools

You may find that specific, specialised software tools exist that help with systematic reviews but they are not always available at the University of Birmingham. Such tools may have some limited free use but full access is dependent on institutional or School subscription.  They are generally aimed at those studying at PhD level and above in subject areas such as Medicine. 

For example:  Covidence*  and  Rayyan .  The Cochrane Foundation also has information on GRADE and RevMan **.  Another tool is EPPI Reviewer . These systematic review management tools are aimed more at the management of research traced through literature searches in the course of a systematic review, and the evaluation and synthesis processes, including viewing by other members of research teams. Covidence and RevMan are available for  use via Library Services / FindIt@Bham (see below). Students are advised to speak with their tutors for guidance on use, and to consult the supplier support information.

Available to University of Birmingham staff and students.

* Covidence .  For help with setting up with and using Covidence, see the dedicated Covidence / University of Birmingham web page , as well as the supplier knowledge base .

** RevMan .  Read the instructions on the FindIt@Bham entry for how to register to use Cochrane RevMan.

References and further reading

Aromataris, E., Fernandez, R., Godfrey, C. M., Holly, C., Khalil, H. and Tungpunkom, P. (2015) 'Summarizing systematic reviews: methodological development, conduct and reporting of an umbrella review approach', International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare , 13(3), pp. 132-40. doi: 10.1097/XEB.0000000000000055.

Boutron, I., Page, M.J., Higgins, J.P.T, Altman, D.G., Lundh, A. and Hróbjartsson, A. (2022) ‘Considering bias and conflicts of interest among the included studies’, In Higgins, J.P.T., Thomas, J., Chandler, J., Cumpston, M., Li, T., Page, M.J. and Welch, V.A. (eds.) (2022) Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.3 (updated February 2022). Cochrane, Ch. 7. Available from: https://training.cochrane.org/handbook/current/chapter-07 (Accessed 19 July 2022)

Cochrane Foundation (2023)  Cochrane’s focused review format is now available . Available at:  https://community.cochrane.org/news/cochranes-focused-review-format-now-available  (Accessed 6 November 2023)

Grant, M.J. and Booth, A. (2009) ' A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies ', Health Information and Libraries Journa l, 26(2), pp. 91-108. doi:  10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

Health Services Library, University of North Carolina (USA) (2023) Covidence.  Available at:  https://guides.lib.unc.edu/Covidence/ (Accessed 01 March 2023)

Higgins, J.P.T., Thomas, J., Chandler, J., Cumpston, M., Li, T., Page, M.J. and Welch, V.A. (eds.) (2022) Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.3 (updated February 2022). Cochrane. Available from www.training.cochrane.org/handbook (Accessed 18 July 2022)

Lancaster University Library (2023) Systematic Reviews . Available at: https://lancaster.libguides.com/SystematicReviews/about (Accessed 21 November 2023)

Marshall, C., Sutton, A., O'Keefe, H., Johnson, E. (eds.) (2022) The Systematic Review Toolbox. Available from: http://www.systematicreviewtools.com/ (Accessed 18 July 2022)

Munn, Z., Peters, M. D. J., Stern, C., Tufanaru, C., McArthur, A. and Aromataris, E. (2018) ' Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach ', BMC Medical Research Methodology , 18(1), article 43. doi: 10.1186/s12874-018-0611-x.

Penn State University Libraries (2023) 'K now the difference! Systematic review vs. literature review ', in Nursing .  Available at: https://guides.libraries.psu.edu/c.php?g=319063&p=5222056 (Accessed 21 November 2023) 

Tricco, A., Oboirien, K., Lotfi, T. and Sambunjak, D. (2017) Scoping reviews and what you can do with them .  Available at: https://training.cochrane.org/resource/scoping-reviews-what-they-are-and-how-you-can-do-them (Accessed 21 November 2023)

University of Bath (2023) Systematic reviews: introduction . Available at: https://library.bath.ac.uk/systematic-reviews/introduction (Accessed 21 November 2023)

Western Libraries, Western University Canada (2023) Literature reviews, introduction to different types of .   Available at: https://www.lib.uwo.ca/tutorials/typesofliteraturereviews/index.html (Accessed 21 November 2023)

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

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The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

University of Derby

Essays, Literature Reviews and Reports

  • Literature Review
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What is a literature review?

A literature review is a collection of literature that is analysed (reviewed) and compared against each other to demonstrate an understanding of a topic. In a literature review you identify relevant theories and previous research in the area. Bell states that  "literature reviews should be succinct and.. give a picture of the state of knowledge and major questions in your topic area."

Literature reviews are usually a part of a dissertation, although some modules may require a standalone literature review.

Why are literature reviews important?

Literature reviews are important as they allow you to gain a thorough awareness and understanding of current work and perspectives in a research area to support and justify your research, as well as illustrating that there is a research gap and assisting in the analysis and interpretation of data.

What should I put into a literature review?

  • The historical context.
  • The contemporary context of your research.
  • A discussion of the relevant underpinning concepts and theories.
  • Definitions of the key terminology used in your own work.
  • Current research in the field that can be challenged or extended by your own research.
  • Justification of the significance of your research.

How do I structure a literature review?

Look carefully at what is expected from you for your literature review. Sometimes they might focus heavily on one piece of literature, while others may focus on two or three, and some would like a vast body of literature to be included. Whatever the expectation, they usually follow the same structure as an essay:

10% Introduction

80% Main Body

10% Conclusion

The introduction should explain how your literature review is organised.

The main body should be made up of headings and sub headings that map out your argument.

The conclusion should summarise the key arguments in a concise way.

When should I start writing my literature review?

Starting writing your literature review as early as possible can help you in understanding the research and understanding how it will be used. This will help in creating an overall structure when writing later versions of the literature review and in comparing and linking different pieces of research. 

There are example essay extracts available on Do It Write ( click here ) to help you understand what they're asking from you. 

The books below provide good background reading for carrying out and writing your literature review.

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URBS 400: Senior Seminar: Conducting a Literature Review

  • Conducting a Literature Review
  • Constructing Your Search

Starting Out on a Literature Review

  • "Reviewing the literature" / David Byrne. Project Planner. SAGE Research Methods. 2017. SAGE Research Method's Project Planner guides you through your research project. This section is basic but helpful for making sure you're on the right track.
  • "Literature review", in : Understanding and evaluating research : a critical guide / Sue L. T. McGregor. SAGE, 2018. pp. 177-204. A very fine presentation of both theory and practice in writing a literature review. Additional SAGE books and journal articles on literature review writing may be found in SAGE Research Methods .
  • Conducting your literature review / Susanne Hempel. American Psychological Association, 2020. One of the APA's Concise Guides to Conducting Behavioral, Health, and Social Science Research series.
  • More books on writing literature reviews ...

Reference works

  • Oxford Bibliographies Online Useful introductions to topics with citations for seminal articles in the field. Search from the main page or navigate by subject.
  • International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences A key resource for understanding unfamiliar concepts in the social sciences.
  • Sage Knowledge Encyclopedias and handbooks related to social science.

Find existing lit reviews

You can jumpstart your lit review by finding lit reviews on similar topics that have already been written.

Article databases

Tip: Use Thesaurus or Index to indentify useful terms for searching.

Tip: Use proximity searching to catch variations.      E.g., literature near/3 review (ProQuest)

Screenshot of Advanced Search using different fields

Dissertations

The work of doctoral students, dissertations may never be published in book form, but they can be rich resources. They invariably include a lit review as a chapter, and often have extensive bibliographies.

  • ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Nearly all recent U.S. dissertations are available here in full-text.  

Annual Reviews

The Annual Reviews series of journals are entirely composed of extensive lit reviews.

  • Annual Review of Sociology

Citation Indexes

Trace citations backward and forward in time to see the reception of ideas

  • Scopus Indexes most peer reviewed journals in science, technology, and medicine, and many in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Scopus also includes a number of trade publications and conference papers, and can perform author and affiliation searching.
  • Web of Science
  • Google Scholar Access to Google Scholar with Penn-only links to full-text articles. Once authenticated through Penn's proxy, full-text articles to which Penn Libraries subscribe will become available within the Google Scholar search results.
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Literature Reviews

  • 6. Write the review
  • Getting started
  • Types of reviews
  • 1. Define your research question
  • 2. Plan your search
  • 3. Search the literature
  • 4. Organize your results
  • 5. Synthesize your findings
  • Thompson Writing Studio This link opens in a new window
  • Need to write a systematic review? This link opens in a new window

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

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Organize your review according to the following structure:

  • Provide a concise overview of your primary thesis and the studies you explore in your review.
  • Present the subject of your review
  • Outline the key points you will address in the review
  • Use your thesis to frame your paper
  • Explain the significance of reviewing the literature in your chosen topic area (e.g., to find research gaps? Or to update your field on the current literature?)
  • Consider dividing it into sections, particularly if examining multiple methodologies
  • Examine the literature thoroughly and systematically, maintaining organization — don't just paraphrase researchers, add your own interpretation and discuss the significance of the papers you found)
  • Reiterate your thesis
  • Summarize your key findings 
  • Ensure proper formatting of your references (stick to a single citation style — be consistent!)
  • Use a citation manager, such as Zotero or EndNote, for easy formatting!

Check out UNC's guide on literature reviews, especially the section " Organizing the Body ."

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Dr Asha Rogers BA, MA (Sheffield), DPhil (Oxon)

Photograph of Dr Asha Rogers

Department of English Literature Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Postcolonial Literature

Contact details

I am a scholar of twentieth and twenty-first century literature. I research the culture-forming work of institutions as forces in literary history, and how writers have responded to their frequently peculiar demands. 

Qualifications

  • BA English Literature (University of Sheffield)
  • MA English Literature (University of Sheffield)
  • DPhil English Literature (University of Oxford)

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

I am a South Londoner of dual heritage, educated in the comprehensive system. I studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield and went on to write a doctoral thesis on the global phenomenon of post-1945 state literary sponsorship at St Anne's College at Oxford, supervised by Peter D. McDonald, where I spent three happy years in archives. I arrived at Birmingham in 2016, after a year teaching postcolonial and global literatures at Queen Mary University of London.

At Birmingham I have expanded the teaching of postcolonial, global and Black British texts and contexts, including teaching with the BBC Caribbean Voices and Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies archives held at the Cadbury Research Library. With students and colleagues I have co-curated the Uncovering Hidden Histories project at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts with the poet Dzifa Benson - read the project’s ‘alternative labels’ here - and Stuart Hall's Archive: A Symposium to mark the arrival of Hall's archive at the University. 

I teach anglophone writing across the twenty and twenty-first centuries, including modules in postcolonial and global literatures. I was nominated for a College of Arts and Law Outstanding Teaching Award in 2019.

Postgraduate supervision

I would be interested to supervise research projects on literature and the modern state, literature and cultural institutions, state sponsorship and protection, and the history of education.

I research the culture-forming work of institutions and how writers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have responded to their often strange demands. I am particularly interested in nuancing how we think about the state as a cultural actor by centring the inner conflicts and unexpected consequences of state action. I centre archival methodologies in my research. 

State Sponsored Literature

My AHRC-funded PhD thesis, Officially Autonomous: Anglophone Literary Cultures and the State since 1945 examined how the modern state sought to protect literary culture from the economic demands of the market after WWII by entering the literary field through organisations the Arts Council and Cold War-era Congress for Cultural Freedom. 

My book  State Sponsored Literature: Britain and Cultural Diversity after 1945  (OUP, 2020) is an in depth study of the British state’s involvement in the literary world. Addressing over 100 primary sources from 10 major public archives, State Sponsored Literature not only shows the extent of state-literary activity in foreign policy, education, and free expression. It also suggests this intervention was determined by the changing publics for literature after empire. It won the 2021 University English Book Prize , the judges noting that ‘the subject needs an approach which can encompass its labyrinthine, complex and contradictory impulses and expressions, and receives it here’. You can listen to me discuss it on the New Books Network podcast .

statesponsoredliterature.com makes publicly accessible some of the materials I used, including: databases of state literary gatekeepers, writer profiles , multimedia resources including a discussion of the book . Please feel free to contact me if you require assistance with accessing it.

Linguistic imperialism, or diversity in a colonial context?

This project explores official literary protection from a different direction: by examining how and why colonial-era state, missionary and publishing institutions acted as guardians of indigenous languages against European domination. This project initiaties a deeper historical understanding of contemporary international debates about linguistic diversity, imperialism and language rights, showing how these ideas unfolded, often dubiously, in the early twentieth century. My research focuses on Britain and former colonies in West and East Africa, with a pilot funded by the Willison Foundation Charitable Trust .

Literary education after empire

I am also working on a comparative history of syllabus reform in national education in Britain and Kenya, focusing on the introduction of African and Caribbean literature in external examinations in the 1970s and 1980s. Amid current debates about decolonizing curricula, positionality, the place literary education in a multi-ethnic state, and increasing centralization in education, these histories remind us that the political stakes of literary study after empire have always been high because school education is a matter of state.

I also have published on the Africa-based activities and magazines of the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom in the 1960s, and was an advisor for ‘ Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club ’ at the Chrysler Museum of Modern Arts.  

Publications

Highlight publications.

Rogers, A 2020, State Sponsored Literature: Britain and Cultural Diversity after 1945 . Oxford English Monographs, Oxford University Press, Oxford. https://doi.org/ 10.1093/ oso/ 9780198857761.001.0001

Recent publications

Rogers, A , Boehmer, E, Kunstmann, R & Mukhopadhyay, P (eds) 2017, The Global Histories of Books: Methods and Practices . New Directions in Book History, Palgrave Macmillan.

Rogers, A 2024, ' Eng. Lit after empire: the political stakes of public goods ', The Journal of Commonwealth Literature . < https://journals.sagepub.com/ home/ jcl >

Rogers, A 2020, ' The literary archives of experience: Richard Rive’s Oxford Library ', The Cambridge Quarterly , vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 252–270. https://doi.org/ 10.1093/ camqtly/ bfaa015

Rogers, A 2015, ' Crossing 'other cultures'? Reading Tatamkhulu Afrika's 'Nothing's Changed' in the NEAB Anthology ', English in Education , vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 80-93. https://doi.org/ 10.1111/ eie.12060

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Rogers, A 2022, The Transcription Centre and the Coproduction of African Literary Culture in the 1960s . in G Barnhisel (ed.), The Bloomsbury Handbook to Cold War Literary Cultures. Bloomsbury Handbooks, Bloomsbury Academic.

Rogers, A 2017, Black Orpheus and the African magazines of the Congress for Cultural Freedom . in G Scott-Smith & CA Lerg (eds), Campaigning Culture and the Global Cold War: : The Journals of the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 243-259. < http://www.palgrave.com/ gb/ book/ 9781137598660 >

Rogers, A 2017, Culture in transition: Rajat Neogy’s transition (1961–1968) and the decolonization of African literature . in D Davies, E Lombard & B Mountford (eds), Fighting Words: Fifteen Books that Shaped the Postcolonial World. 1st edn, Race and Resistance Across Borders in the Long Twentieth Century, vol. 1, Peter Lang, pp. 183-199. https://doi.org/ 10.3726/ b13185

Rogers, A , Boehmer, E, Mukhopadhay, P & Kunstmann, R 2017, Introduction . in E Boehmer, R Kunstmann, P Mukhopadhyay & A Rogers (eds), The Global Histories of Books: Methods and Practices. New Directions in Book History, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-20.

Review article

Rogers, A 2020, ' The Dead Ends of Decolonization, or Faith in the Literary? ', Contemporary Literature , pp. 118-126.

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Literature Reviews

  • Getting Started
  • Choosing a Type of Review
  • Developing a Research Question
  • Searching the Literature
  • Searching Tips
  • ChatGPT [beta]
  • Documenting your Search
  • Using Citation Managers
  • Concept Mapping
  • Concept Map Definition

MindMeister

  • Writing the Review
  • Further Resources

Additional Tools

Google slides.

GSlides can create concept maps using their Diagram feature. Insert > Diagram > Hierarchy will give you some editable templates to use.

Tutorial on diagrams in GSlides .

MICROSOFT WORD

MS Word can create concept maps using Insert > SmartArt Graphic. Select Process, Cycle, Hierarchy, or Relationship to see templates.

NVivo  is software for qualitative analysis that has a concept map feature. Zotero libraries can be uploaded using ris files. NVivo Concept Map information.

A concept map or mind map is a visual representation of knowledge that illustrates relationships between concepts or ideas. It is a tool for organizing and representing information in a hierarchical and interconnected manner. At its core, a concept map consists of nodes, which represent individual concepts or ideas, and links, which depict the relationships between these concepts .

Below is a non-exhaustive list of tools that can facilitate the creation of concept maps.

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

www.canva.com

Canva is a user-friendly graphic design platform that enables individuals to create visual content quickly and easily. It offers a diverse array of customizable templates, design elements, and tools, making it accessible to users with varying levels of design experience. 

Pros: comes with many pre-made concept map templates to get you started

Cons : not all features are available in the free version

Explore Canva concept map templates here .

Note: Although Canva advertises an "education" option, this is for K-12 only and does not apply to university users.

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

www.lucidchart.com

Lucid has two tools that can create mind maps (what they're called inside Lucid): Lucidchart is the place to build, document, and diagram, and Lucidspark is the place to ideate, connect, and plan.

Lucidchart is a collaborative online diagramming and visualization tool that allows users to create a wide range of diagrams, including flowcharts, org charts, wireframes, and mind maps. Its mind-mapping feature provides a structured framework for brainstorming ideas, organizing thoughts, and visualizing relationships between concepts. 

Lucidspark , works as a virtual whiteboard. Here, you can add sticky notes, develop ideas through freehand drawing, and collaborate with your teammates. Has only one template for mind mapping.

Explore Lucid mind map creation here .

How to create mind maps using LucidSpark: 

Note: U-M students have access to Lucid through ITS. [ info here ] Choose the "Login w Google" option, use your @umich.edu account, and access should happen automatically.

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

www.figma.com

Figma is a cloud-based design tool that enables collaborative interface design and prototyping. It's widely used by UI/UX designers to create, prototype, and iterate on digital designs. Figma is the main design tool, and FigJam is their virtual whiteboard:

Figma  is a comprehensive design tool that enables designers to create and prototype high-fidelity designs

FigJam focuses on collaboration and brainstorming, providing a virtual whiteboard-like experience, best for concept maps

Explore FigJam concept maps here .

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

Note: There is a " Figma for Education " version for students that will provide access. Choose the "Login w Google" option, use your @umich.edu account, and access should happen automatically.

how to write a literature review university of birmingham

www.mindmeister.com

MindMeister  is an online mind mapping tool that allows users to visually organize their thoughts, ideas, and information in a structured and hierarchical format. It provides a digital canvas where users can create and manipulate nodes representing concepts or topics, and connect them with lines to show relationships and associations.

Features : collaborative, permits multiple co-authors, and multiple export formats. The free version allows up to 3 mind maps.

Explore  MindMeister templates here .

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Latin American and Latino/a Studies

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  • Literature Review

What's on this Page

This page is meant to help you create a literature review for academic projects and publications. Each tab outlines a different aspect of what a literature review is and how to build one. If you need help finding sources for your literature reviews, check out How To pages.

How to Build a Literature Review

  • What is a Lit Review?
  • Why Write a Lit Review?
  • Building a Lit Review
  • Prepping for a Lit Review
  • Basic Example
  • Other Resources/Examples

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a comprehensive summary and analysis of previously published research on a particular topic. Literature reviews should give the reader an overview of the important theories and themes that have previously been discussed on the topic, as well as any important researchers who have contributed to the discourse. This review should connect the established conclusions to the hypothesis being presented in the rest of the paper.

What a Literature Review Is Not:

  • Annotated Bibliography: An annotated bibliography summarizes and assesses each resource individually and separately. A literature review explores the connections between different articles to illustrate important themes/theories/research trends within a larger research area. 
  • Timeline: While a literature review can be organized chronologically, they are not simple timelines of previous events. They should not be a list of any kind. Individual examples or events should be combined to illustrate larger ideas or concepts.
  • Argumentative Paper: Literature reviews are not meant to be making an argument. They are explorations of a concept to give the audience an understanding of what has already been written and researched about an idea. As many perspectives as possible should be included in a literature review in order to give the reader as comprehensive understanding of a topic as possible.

Why Write a Literature Review?

After reading the literature review, the reader should have a basic understanding of the topic. A reader should be able to come into your paper without really knowing anything about an idea, and after reading the literature, feel more confident about the important points.

A literature review should also help the reader understand the focus the rest of the paper will take within the larger topic. If the reader knows what has already been studied, they will be better prepared for the novel argument that is about to be made.

A literature review should help the reader understand the important history, themes, events, and ideas about a particular topic. Connections between ideas/themes should also explored. Part of the importance of a literature review is to prove to experts who do read your paper that you are knowledgeable enough to contribute to the academic discussion. You have to have done your homework.

A literature review should also identify the gaps in research to show the reader what hasn't yet been explored. Your thesis should ideally address one of the gaps identified in the research. Scholarly articles are meant to push academic conversations forward with new ideas and arguments. Before knowing where the gaps are in a topic, you need to have read what others have written.

What does a literature review look like?

As mentioned in other tabs, literature reviews should discuss the big ideas that make up a topic. Each literature review should be broken up into different subtopics. Each subtopic should use groups of articles as evidence to support the ideas. There are several different ways of organizing a literature review. It will depend on the patterns one sees in the groups of articles as to which strategy should be used. Here are a few examples of how to organize your review:

Chronological

If there are clear trends that change over time, a chronological approach could be used to organize a literature review. For example, one might argue that in the 1970s, the predominant theories and themes argued something. However, in the 1980s, the theories evolved to something else. Then, in the 1990s, theories evolved further. Each decade is a subtopic, and articles should be used as examples. 

Themes/Theories

There may also be clear distinctions between schools of thought within a topic, a theoretical breakdown may be most appropriate. Each theory could be a subtopic, and articles supporting the theme should be included as evidence for each one. 

If researchers mainly differ in the way they went about conducting research, literature reviews can be organized by methodology. Each type of method could be a subtopic,  and articles using the method should be included as evidence for each one.

Preliminary Steps for Literature Review

  • Define your research question
  • Compile a list of initial keywords to use for searching based on question
  • Search for literature that discusses the topics surrounding your research question
  • Assess and organize your literature into logical groups
  • Identify gaps in research and conduct secondary searches (if necessary)
  • Reassess and reorganize literature again (if necessary)
  • Write review

Here is an example of a literature review, taken from the beginning of a research article. You can find other examples within most scholarly research articles. The majority of published scholarship includes a literature review section, and you can use those to become more familiar with these reviews.

Source:  Perceptions of the Police by LGBT Communities

section of a literature review, highlighting broad themes

  • ISU Writing Assistance The Julia N. Visor Academic Center provides one-on-one writing assistance for any course or need. By focusing on the writing process instead of merely on grammar and editing, we are committed to making you a better writer.
  • University of Toronto: The Literature Review Written by Dena Taylor, Health Sciences Writing Centre
  • Purdue OWL - Writing a Lit Review Goes over the basic steps
  • UW Madison Writing Center - Review of Literature A description of what each piece of a literature review should entail.
  • USC Libraries - Literature Reviews Offers detailed guidance on how to develop, organize, and write a college-level research paper in the social and behavioral sciences.
  • Creating the literature review: integrating research questions and arguments Blog post with very helpful overview for how to organize and build/integrate arguments in a literature review
  • Understanding, Selecting, and Integrating a Theoretical Framework in Dissertation Research: Creating the Blueprint for Your “House” Article focusing on constructing a literature review for a dissertation. Still very relevant for literature reviews in other types of content.

A note that many of these examples will be far longer and in-depth than what's required for your assignment. However, they will give you an idea of the general structure and components of a literature review. Additionally, most scholarly articles will include a literature review section. Looking over the articles you have been assigned in classes will also help you.

  • Sample Literature Review (Univ. of Florida) This guide will provide research and writing tips to help students complete a literature review assignment.
  • Sociology Literature Review (Univ. of Hawaii) Written in ASA citation style - don't follow this format.
  • Sample Lit Review - Univ. of Vermont Includes an example with tips in the footnotes.
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  • Last Updated: Feb 21, 2024 3:31 PM
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COMMENTS

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    Reviewing the literature. A literature review is an analysis, critical evaluation and synthesis of previous research on a topic. Writing a literature review is an important part of postgraduate research and this workshop or online course will help you understand the nature of a quality literature review and provide advice on constructing an ...

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    1. Enable the student to formulate and carry out all the phases of a research study under the guidance of an experienced supervisor. 2. Allow the student to gain insight and first-hand experience of the research process in Neuroscience. 3. Enable the student to develop skills in organisation, project management, team-work and communication. 4.

  3. Systematic and Other Reviews

    It may simply be a general literature search and review of articles, using databases Or: a number of elements of the Systematic Review method may be needed, as directed Elements may include: The protocol; PRISMA flowchart sequence, searching several databases, filtering results (inclusion/exclusion)

  4. Literature searching and referencing

    Library Support for researchers Literature searching and referencing Literature searching and referencing Literature searching Literature Searching is the process of performing a thorough search of available literature (journal articles, books, official reports etc.) to determine what is already known, and not known, on a research topic.

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    It will guide and support students through the process of developing a literature research question; devising a comprehensive and systematic search strategy; using information databases to access literature; reading and critically analysing the literature; and writing an effective literature review on a specific topic.

  6. Literature Review

    As a piece of writing, the lit review must be defined by a guiding concept - your research objective or the problem or issues you are discussing. What the lit review is NOT is just a descriptive list of material you have found on your topic. The writing of a lit review lets the writer gain and demonstrate skills in two important areas:

  7. Evidence-Based Literature Review

    Oral Presentation Lit B: Critical Analysis Lit C: Project Proposal Mark Use our Offer Calculator Get started Information for applicants View terms and conditions Culture and collections Schools, institutes and departments Services and facilities

  8. Literature Review

    Literature Review - 20 credits. Working with an academic in the School you will explore in depth a topic of research relating to sustainability. In addition to understanding how to explore, use and interrogate the scientific literature as required to undertake original research, this module will help you build your transferable research, time ...

  9. Writing a literature review

    RIS Vancouver Becker, S., Bryman, A., Becker, S., & Bryman, A. (2004). Writing a literature review. In Understanding Research for Social Policy and Practice: Themes, Methods and Approaches

  10. How to Write a Literature Review

    There are five key steps to writing a literature review: Search for relevant literature Evaluate sources Identify themes, debates, and gaps Outline the structure Write your literature review

  11. Systematic Reviews: Literature Review

    When performing literature searches for a systematic review it's important to use a wide range of resources and searching methods in order to identify all relevant studies. As expert searchers, librarians play an important role in making sure your searches are comprehensive and reproducible. Standard 3.1.1 of the Institute of Medicine's Finding ...

  12. PDF 1.04 How to Write a Literature Review

    1 Birmingham City University A useful technique at this stage is to draw a mind map of your chosen subject and attach Post-it notes to the map which represent individual sources.

  13. How to Write a Literature Review

    Abstract A literature review is not just a sequence of summaries or critiques of selected sources (this is known as an annotated bibliography). Rather, it should take the form of a critical discussion, showing insight and an awareness of differing arguments, theories, methods and findings. It should analyse and synthesise relevant published works.

  14. Writing a Literature Review

    Cite your source automatically in MLA or APA format Cite Using citation machines responsibly Powered by A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections.

  15. LibGuides: A Guide to Conducting Reviews: Literature Review

    Chapters match the stages of a literature review, from start to finish. Useful examples and key questions will help to keep the reader on track. With this book as your guide, developing a literature review need not be a daunting or overwhelming task." Dr Merryl E Harvey, Senior Academic, Faculty of Health, Birmingham City University, UK

  16. Systematic Reviews

    The Cochrane Interactive Learning Resource is available to University of Birmingham members (or others with an institutional subscription). This is a valuable learning tool which explores the systematic review process in more detail. The Cochrane Foundation has a very detailed online handbook, Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of ...

  17. How to write a research proposal

    1. Research topic. General subject area/explain domain on which you will focus. 2. Review of the literature. Demonstrate familiarity with relevant literature, show awareness of previous research and explain how your research aims to make an original contribution to knowledge. 3. Research objectives. Explain what you are intending to achieve.

  18. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

  19. Dissertation

    In 'idd'. All MSc students are required to write a 10,000 - 12,000 word dissertation. This contributes one-third (60 credits) of the overall assessment. The dissertation is an opportunity to apply the content of the modules studied to a topic of interest to the student. It may address an issue of theoretical or practical importance.

  20. Systematic Reviews: Introduction

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  22. URBS 400: Senior Seminar: Conducting a Literature Review

    E.g., literature near/3 review (ProQuest) Dissertations. The work of doctoral students, dissertations may never be published in book form, but they can be rich resources. They invariably include a lit review as a chapter, and often have extensive bibliographies. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses

  23. Getting started

    What is a literature review? Definition: A literature review is a systematic examination and synthesis of existing scholarly research on a specific topic or subject. Purpose: It serves to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge within a particular field. Analysis: Involves critically evaluating and summarizing key findings, methodologies, and debates found in ...

  24. 6. Write the review

    Organize your review according to the following structure: Abstract (it might help to write this section last!) Provide a concise overview of your primary thesis and the studies you explore in your review. Introduction. Present the subject of your review; Outline the key points you will address in the review; Use your thesis to frame your paper

  25. (PDF) How to Write a Literature Review

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  26. Department of English Literature

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  27. Concept Mapping

    A concept map or mind map is a visual representation of knowledge that illustrates relationships between concepts or ideas. It is a tool for organizing and representing information in a hierarchical and interconnected manner. At its core, a concept map consists of nodes, which represent individual concepts or ideas, and links, which depict the relationships between these concepts.

  28. Guides: Latin American and Latino/a Studies: Literature Review

    A literature review is a comprehensive summary and analysis of previously published research on a particular topic. Literature reviews should give the reader an overview of the important theories and themes that have previously been discussed on the topic, as well as any important researchers who have contributed to the discourse.

  29. Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series: Recuperating Forgotten Narratives

    She is the author of Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature (University of Virginia Press, 2014), is co-editor with Eve Dunbar of African American Literature in Transition: 1930-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2022), and has published several book chapters as well as articles in African American ...