“The basic purpose of the literature review is twofold: first, to provide an introduction to your topic and explain the research that has already been conducted; and second, to help motivate and provide background for the hypotheses and research questions that you will be testing. Don’t go overboard; write concisely and powerfully. You should take no more than one paragraph to summarize any one piece of previous research that you cite in the literature review. Try to keep your review as focused as possible on the central themes of interest.”
Here are some general guidelines for the literature review:
- You must be sure that you properly cite everything in APA format (parenthetical citations), and avoid plagiarism at all costs. Consult the following website: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/666/01/ (Links to an external site.) for proper formatting and the use of APA.
- It is difficult to specify the length of a good literature review. Just as a guideline, I’ll suggest 6 pages. That should be enough to set the tone of your paper. However, some may go longer than 6 pages (For this assignment no literature review should be shorter than 6 pages)
- Remember what a literature review is supposed to accomplish: first, you should provide a general introduction to your topic; and second, you should provide whatever background is necessary for the reader to understand why you are posing your hypotheses and research questions. Therefore, you must focus your attention on only those aspects of your topic that are relevant to your research project! Your 6 page literature review is not meant to be the end-all definitive source on your topic; it is only meant to set the tone for the really important stuff that comes later in the paper – namely, the original research that you will be conducting. I very strongly encourage you to plan before you write.
- Examine your sources. Decide what the contribution of each source is. Make an outline. After you’ve taken these steps, then start writing. It is exceptionally important that a literature review be well organized – use headings to delineate the topics you will discuss.
- For examples of literature reviews, consult your sources – virtually all articles in scholarly journals have literature reviews. Again, the purpose is only to introduce the reader to your topic and set the stage for your hypotheses and research questions. Therefore, you will only want to include relevant selections that lead directly to your project. Here’s what one professor writes of literature reviews:
“An author should communicate a review’s purpose to the reader by its organizations. The wrong way to write a review is to list a series of research reports with a summary of the findings of each. This fails to communicate a sense of purpose. It reads as a set of notes strung together. Perhaps the reviewer got sloppy and skipped over the important organizing step in writing the review. The right way to write a review is to organize common findings or arguments together. A well-accepted approach is to address the most important ideas first, to logically link statements or findings, and to note discrepancies or weaknesses in the research” (Neuman, 2004, p. 78).
- Here’s an example. Let’s say that I was researching college students’ attitudes about police use of force. Here’s how I might organize my literature review:
- Introduce my topic – perhaps with a scenario or something attention grabbing
- What is use of force? I have to define my key concepts before we go on.
- Who cares about this topic? I need to explain why it matters – what are the implications of my research? Who cares what college students think about police use of force?
- Now I would present the results of studies that directly address attitudes towards police use of force. I would not address studies about the prevalence of use of force, or about court cases regarding the use of force, because those are not targeted directly to my topic. As I present the studies, I would briefly note the conclusions and I would discuss, overall, what we know and what we don’t know. I would issue critiques of previous research as necessary and tie together common themes. A (very hypothetical) paragraph might look like this:
“Previous research has found gender differences in perceptions of use of force. A number of studies (Smith, 1999; Jones, 1998; Anderson, 1983) have found that men are more likely to approve of higher levels of police force than women. However, one study found that female criminal justice students supported higher levels of force than male students (Zebulon, 1993). It is important to note that the first three studies noted above were of citizens, while the last study focused only on students. Furthermore, Zebulon’s work studied only one criminal justice department at one university –clearly, more research is necessary to understand this issue. The research conducted in this project will help clarify the nature of college students’ attitudes towards use of force.
6. The important thing here is to NOT GET OVERWHELMED BY THIS SECTION OF YOUR PAPER. Remember the only purpose of the literature review is to define your topic and set the stage for your hypotheses. In all reality, the literature review is one of the least important parts of your paper – it just is meant to pave the way for your original data collection and analysis (i.e., survey, interviews, etc.).