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Writing a Literature Review: Phase 6: Writing the Literature Review

Tips on writing a literature review (in any subject). (adapted from Brendan Rapple's LibGuide of the same title at Boston College, O'Neill Library.)

Excellent Writing is Essential

After you have located your literature, read it, analyzed and evaluated it, it’s time to embark on the essential next stage of actually writing it up. It’s always worthwhile to lavish care on the actual writing of your literature review.

Some tips:

  • Keep your audience in mind as you write your literature review. Your writing should be pitched at the level of expected readers. Use the terminology appropriate to them, i.e. physics terms for physicists; sociology terms for sociologists.
  • If you are writing for the ordinary reader, avoid all jargon. Generally, "plain English" is the best strategy.
  • It’s usually a good idea to keep your paragraphs short.
  • Subheadings should be used to clarify the structure. They break up the material into more readable units as well as give the reader a place to "dive in" if she doesn't want to read all of the material.
  • It’s often a good idea to write the first draft straight through and quickly – this can help preserve continuity and give coherence. Once you have text down on paper (or on a computer) it’s often far easier to make needed revisions.
  • Some common errors include:
    • a failure to focus by going off on tangents;
    • failure to cite essential pertinent studies;
    • failure to maintain a coherent, logical flow;
    • weak organization;
    • poor language, grammar etc.
  • Use direct quotation sparingly and judiciously. Paraphrasing writers' works is often preferable to quoting direct passages.
  • Be prudent in the number of studies you discuss and cite. Referring to almost everything on the subject is useless.
  • Don't cite references that you haven't read.
  • A review is NOT a group of linked abstracts, one per paragraph.

At the end of the review the reader, captivated by both the style and content, should be able to declare: “This is precisely the study that must be carried out now to advance the needed research in this field.”