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Writing a Literature Review

This guide will help you get started on your literature review by providing basic information on what a review is, how to write it and where to do the research.

Evaluating Information and Reading Critically

Before reviewing any publications, including books and scholastic articles, evaluate the sources for their credibility. How have they arrived at their results? Are there any conflicting theories or findings? Reading at this critical level will help you decide whether a publication should or should not be included in your literature review.

Author credentials

Take some time to examine how the contributors are affiliated. Are the researchers connected to a university, a research lab or a pharmaceutical company? Are the authors considered leading experts in their field? Are they promoting special interests?

Relevance and Scope

Make sure the publications you include in your literature review are relevant and within the scope of your topic, in terms of theoretical argument, research methodology, timeframe and currency.

Reliability

How well is the study designed? Do you see any room for improvement? Do similar studies come to the same conclusion? Have the authors explored the topic from different points of view, or do they rely on a more one-sided argument?

Writing Your Literature Review

A literature review is NOT an annotated bibliography. It should be a discursive piece of writing that combines, analyses and evaluates what is currently known and published about a particular topic.

Introduction

The introduction specifies your literature review topic and its relevance to the discipline in question. As with any other research paper, your introduction should preview the synthesis and the conclusion that you will come to, based on your analysis and evaluation. 

Search Method

A stand-alone literature review will often mention which databases and search words the author used. The criteria for including or excluding articles are stated and explained. The following is a screen capture from “Fish, food security and health in Pacific Island countries and territories: a systematic literature review”:

There are many ways of organizing the body of your literature review, including theme, methodology and chronology. Since a literature review is a critical evaluation of existing knowledge, it is useful to compare works that share the same themes or use similar methodologies. This allows for a more discursive reading of the current knowledge, rather than a simple list of available literature. The following are three types of literature reviews, all on the topic of farming and food security; however, each uses a different organizing concept. 

Organizing Concept Example
Theme/Trend Farming approaches for greater biodiversity, livelihoods, and food security
Six types of farming systems (conventional, sustainably intensified, organic, diversified, ecologically intensified and agroecological) are examined, looking at their similarities and differences. After surveying current literature, the authors conclude that further study is required on how farming trends affect a community’s socioeconomic status.
Chronology Evolution of regional to global paddy rice mapping methods: A review 
Rice paddies play an important role food security, but also contribute to climate change and disease transmission. This review tracks the agricultural efforts and the technology behind the mapping of rice paddies between 1987 and 2015. The authors contend there is a lack of comprehensive information on mapping technology, nor is there a systematic way of taking measurements across time and geography. 
Methodology Yield gaps in rice-based farming systems: Insights from local studies and prospects for future analysis  
This review examines and compares the methodologies used to measure rice-yield gaps across different geographical regions. The authors recommend that future studies on rice-yield gaps take local ecosystems into consideration.

Conclusion

This is the place to summarize the results of your analysis of the current literature, highlighting what key information is known and what areas need further study. You can also provide suggestions for possible future studies, or demonstrate why your proposed research merits further study.

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