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Literature Reviews: Writing your review

An introduction to the Literature Review process and resources to help you to get started.

Structure of the review

There may be several different possible structures for your review. Making an outline or plan is a good way to experiment with these different structures. Your review could be organised in one of the following ways:

  • Chronological/historical
  • Conceptual
  • Methodological

Tips:

  • Your literature review needs to be coherentOrganise your literature into logical categories around the subject/topic areas of your questions.
  • Introduction: What is the significance and importance of the review? Provide an overview of the contents of the review.
  • Critically analyse the relevant literature: State the content of the literature, the implications of this knowledge, any gaps or deficiencies, any inconsistencies or conflicting viewpoints.
  • Conclusion: Draw together the important points and briefly explain how the information answers your original research question. Indicate if more research is needed.
  • Avoid plagiarism: understand the guidelines and acknowledge the source of ideas and quotations of other researchers. Refer to Avoiding plagiarism.

Common problems and errors

  • Avoid presenting material from one author, followed by information from another, then from another, and so on. The way in which you group authors and link ideas will help to avoid this problem. To group authors who draw similar conclusions, you can use linking words such as: also, additionally, again, similarly.
     
  • When authors disagree, linking words that indicate contrast will show how you have analysed their work: however, conversely, on the other hand, nonetheless. At other times you may want to qualify an author's work (specifically, usually or generally) or use an example (thus, namely, to illustrate).

A checklist after writing the first draft

Selection of Sources

  • Have you indicated the purpose of the review?
  • Are the parameters of the review reasonable?
  • Why did you include some of the literature and exclude others?
  • Have you emphasised recent developments?
  • Have you focussed on primary sources with only selective use of secondary sources?
  • is your bibliographic data complete?

Critical Evaluation of the Literature

  • Is there a logic to the way you organise the material?
  • Does the amount of detail around an issue relate to its importance?
  • Have you been sufficiently critical of design and methodology?
  • Have you commented when results were conflicting or inconclusive?
  • Have you indicated the relevance of each reference to your research?

Avoiding plagiarism

  • Plagiarism occurs when you copy another author's ideas or words without acknowledging their source. Anything you get from a source, even if you write it in your own words, needs to have a citation or footnote.
     
  • Your literature review is based on the work of other authors, so you must be very careful to separate an author's evaluation of research from your own.
     
  • The University of Melbourne has a comprehensive website that will tell you more about plagiarism. It is highly recommended that you read this site to get a greater understanding of the University's approach to plagiarism.
     
  • The Academic Skills Unit has a brochure outlining how to use sources and avoid plagiarism.