As you are writing and note-taking, begin practicing good citation-habits so you are not scrambling at the end to shoddily construct your reference list. When note-taking, it is good to have a running reference section of all the literature that you are working with so that whenever you add information, you can immediately proffer the full citation. Moreover, avoiding plagiarism will be much easier if you are clear in distinguishing between another author’s insight and your own. When quoting and paraphrasing directly, make sure to add in the page number so that you can easily refer back to the section and confirm accuracy. This way, when you come to write the review, all the relevant information needed to cite the author properly will be easily available. Other helpful tools include citation generators and trackers such as Mendeley, Papers, or Quiqqa. If this is still unclear, plagiarism checkers like Turnitin can serve as backup tools to ensure that you have not carelessly left another’s words uncited. These tools are by no means perfectly reliable, however, and so the best way to avoid plagiarism is to be intentional and careful in your work.
Now that you have found, read through, and taken notes on the studies that establish the background of your own, it is time to summarize the background of your research as concisely and effectively as possible. This task will often require that you address many different sources of information at once (especially given the space constraints of assignments and journals) (Pautausso, 2013). With this in mind, it is important to learn to synthesize and summarize findings under a key term or topic in a purposeful way; which means that you aim throughout to show the reader a meaningful gap in their field. The literature review is not just an aimless summary of what has been said on a given topic, but a purposeful summary which implicates all of the background information towards your project. The literature review is thus a type of : prose which not only lists descriptions, but evaluates the evidence according to your research question (Taylor & Proctor, n.d.). Ask throughout: how does this relate to my research question? Is it a plausible answer to the question? When you know the concepts you are critiquing and the concepts you are supporting, then you can begin to organize the literature review in a purposeful way by establishing the background, articulating the research that your study agrees with, and then tactically challenging what is missing. With the state of knowledge and gaps established, you can propose how you intend to address what is missing. The effectiveness of the last part depends on the rest. In sum, the review answers what is there and what is important for your audience, but with a sense that something is missing, leaving your reader with the impression that something should be done to address this gap. This is where your study comes in.
- Develop a thesis statement. Think about your research question and summarize how the literature answers the question.
- Do not make claims without evidence: Show that your interpretation of the literature is valid by providing evidence (e.g. quotes, statistics and other facts from sources).
- Be selective from your sources: do not write a paragraph about something because it is interesting. You must be able to relate it to your research question or the approach that you will take in your thesis. Only select sources that will elevate your argument and those that will make your paper whole.
- Do not overuse quotes: paraphrasing shows you understand and can interpret the materials. Do not rely on quotes to make your arguments. Use quotes only when you want to emphasize a point or when the author’s original point cannot be rewritten.
- Do not list sources: Synthesize. Your literature review should not read like an annotated bibliography. Instead, it should demonstrate that you understand the relationship between different viewpoints. Instead of repeating the same point made by more than one author, find the commonality between them and paraphrase it and attribute all the authors to that statement. Unless the author is saying something unique, you should synthesize. Be careful that you are not just attributing citations to banal points. Remember point #2 above: be selective.
- Assert your views: It is important to have a voice in your literature review. You can do this by starting and ending your paragraph with your own words and ideas. Remember your thesis statement –relate your points to your thesis (for more detail, see UNC Writing Center, 2021)
Pautasso, M. (2013). “Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review.” PLOS Computational Biology. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article/authors?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149.
Taylor, D & Proctor, M. “The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It.” UofT Health Sciences Writing Centre. http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/types-of-writing/literature-review/
prose which not only lists descriptions, but evaluates the evidence according to your research question