A literature review offers a critical assessment of the current literature (sources) that a researcher or researchers have gathered on a certain research topic so as to identify gaps in the existing literature or offer a summary or insight on the existing knowledge on the topic.
Structure-wise, a literature review will assume the structure of a standard essays. It will have an introduction, body, and the conclusion section. However, unlike some peoples believe, literature review is not structured like an annotated bibliography which is usually a summary of various source listed one after the other. To some extent it will offer a summary just like an annotated bibliography but literature review goes beyond a mere summary to assess, analyze and make a conclusion of a source in relation to the current work of study. A literature review structure may also provide a new perspective especially in classical papers, or combine old and new interpretations to make bridge gaps identified by previous researches. To shed more insights on literature review, this article elaborates on the structure of literature review. As said, a literature review will have an introduction, body, and a conclusion.
The introduction part act as an outline of;
- Why the topic is important
- Why you are writing a review
- What aspects of the topic will be discussed – the scope of the literature review
- The organizational pattern of the review
- The criteria that will be used for your literature section (for instance, data range, and the type of sources to be used).
The body contains a thorough analysis of a source and its connection to the current topic of study. For efficiency, each paragraph in this section should deal with a different theme but the theme should be relevant to the topic of study. One must also synthesis their reviewed readings into each paragraph to ensure that there is a clear connection between the sources. Finally, a critical analysis of how each source contribute to the research topic is done.
Generally, the body can include paragraphs on:
- Historical background
- Principal questions being asked
- Previous studies on the topic
- General conclusions from each source
Therefore, the main body should be organized in regard to the main theme or research topic, or research question. It should also provide insights on the relationship between the current research topic and the wider subject area; for instance, between the effect of drug abuse to teenagers and the general effect of drug abuse. After this, the body must move from the general or wider view of the research topic to the specific focus of the topic.
The conclusion section gives a summary of:
- The main agreement and disagreement in various sources reviewed. This can be observed from the conclusion made by each source.
- The existing gaps and the need for further research
- Your perspective on the topic
The conclusion should also:
- Link the research to the existing knowledge
- Evaluate the state of the available literature
- Identify flaws or gaps in the current literature and suggest areas that require further research
- Summarize the main aspects of the current literature.
On the structure of a literature review, the introduction, body and conclusion structure may be considered at both the entire literature review section or/and on each paragraph. Therefore, you paragraph may contain an introduction part, a body that contains the various findings, information and data from a particular source, and a conclusion part that documents gaps and/or flaws in the source reviewed, their relevance and contribution to the wider area of study, and its possible significance to your current topic.