Chapter 5: The Literature Review

5.5 The Difference between a Literature Review and an Essay

So, now that you know what a literature review is and how to write it, it is important to understand how a literature review is different from an essay. First of all, it is necessary to point out that many students struggle with understanding the difference between a literature review and an essay. This is particularly so because a student can use the exact same resources to create a literature review or an essay; however, what is different about the two is where the emphasis in the writing is placed (Thomas 2012).

A literature review focuses on everything that has been written about a particular topic, theory, or body of research. It is focused on the research and the researchers who have undertaken research on your topic. In contrast, an essay focuses on proving a point. It does not need to provide an extensive coverage of all of the material on the topic. In fact, the writer chooses only those sources that prove the point. Most professors will expect to see you discuss a few different perspectives from the materials that run contrary to the point you are trying to make. For example, suppose you want to write an essay about the negative effects of shiftwork on nurses. You would gather material to show that shiftwork negatively affects nurses, and the various ways it affects nurses. Now in this case, you might find the odd research paper that states shiftwork has no effect – although this seems unlikely because it has been extensively documented to have a negative effect. However, in an essay you are focused on providing information on your topic and proving your point.


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