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Writing a Literature Review in Social Sciences

1) Understand the purpose of your literature review

Depending on the purpose of your literature review, you will need different ways to get prepared.  The following tips will help you visualize what your final product will look like. 

  • As a term paper for a class? 
    • Interpret the requirements of the assignment
      • Length, due dates, # of sources to use, which style the paper should be formatted, etc.
  • As part of a research article? 
    • If you have a specific journal in mind to publish your research article, read 2-3 articles published in the journal and read the "author instruction"  of the journal.  
  • For a literature review article? 
    • Make yourself familiar with the common format of review articles in the field 
    • Most of the scholarly journals publish review articles 
    • See if an "Annual Review of..." series is available in the field or on the chosen topic  
      • E.g., 
        Annual Review of Information Science and Technology
        Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior  
  • For a Systematic Review project?
    • Systematic Review is a type of review to identify, appraise, and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. 
    • For resources and strategies to conduct a systematic review project, see the Libraries' Systematic Reviews Guide.
  • As a chapter for a dissertation or thesis? 
    • Read the literature review chapter of 2-3 dissertations or theses directed by your dissertation adviser, committee members, or the recent dissertations on the chosen topic.

2) Building or Polishing Your Research Toolbox

Toolbox for Searching:

    Toolbox for Writing:


    What to Expect

    • Writing a literature review is about making connections with the related works and with your own research. See the big picture. 

    • It is quite often impossible to search (and read) "everything" that has been written and published on a topic. Be selective. 

    • At some point, you have to STOP searching and reading, and start to write a draft. Know when to stop. 

    • It could be an overwhelming task. Setting up your research toolbox before you jump into the task will help you manage the process better. Get prepared.
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