Literature Reviews - structure

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Advice Leaflets

Advice leaflets originally produced for the Study Advice Service in the University of Hull, which holds the copyright:

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When you have carried out (or at least started) the tasks described in Literature reviews - how to write them, you need to consider how best to write them up. You need to organise the results of your tasks, and then you need to write a clear account of what you have done, so that your reader sees what you are saying, how you are saying it and - when it is not a free-standing academic exercise - what it has to do with your overall Thesis or Dissertation.

This structure/organisation may be any of a variety of principles. It can be a chronological (Chronological is "arranged in the order of time" (OED)) survey, in terms of the chronology either of the publication of the texts, or of the order in which your study progressed, e.g. "The starting point was Professor X's text-book. This directed me to the following sources: YYY, ZZZ and AABBCC. In order to learn more about them, I consulted the Commentaries DDEEFF and GGHHII. This introduced the different views of the London Group and the Chicago Group, the argument between whom will be covered in Section 5 of this thesis" - and so on. (All of this will be done in much more detail in, for example, a Ph.D. Thesis, than an undergraduate 2nd year dissertation.)

You may also structure your Literature Review thematically, or topically - that is, by grouping your discussion into various themes. In medical subjects, it might be said that "treatment for this disorder can be divided into pharmaceutical, surgical and cognitive methods". A Review of the literature on this disorder, then, could be structured into one section on each of these methods, perhaps with a fourth 'Overview' that treated a set of wider ways of looking at the treatments.

In other words, as in so much writing and structuring of writing, both academic and non-academic, the way you do something will often follow the material. The job of the research writer is to order the data that has been found, and then to express this order in such a way as to make it accessible to the reader. So the way you plan your work will depend on your data, and the patterns you see in it, or the thoughts you have about it. The way you write it will depend on how you want to persuade your reader of the truth of your insights (and how much you want to impress your lecturer with the breadth of your knowledge).

Remember that you cannot do everything thoroughly. Sometimes you will just mention a particular book or article. At other times, you will want to write a long paragraph. Your reader will judge, by and large, that the more space you give to an item, or group of items, the greater is its importance. Again, judgement and balance must be the key.

A general Guide like this one can only hope to give you the confidence to prove your fitness for academic study by encouraging you to take a responsible view of your material, and learning for yourself how best to manage it. You should aim to come up with an original but appropriate way of writing your Literature Review. (Don't be worried by the word 'original' - it will still look very like allthe others in your subject. It should, because they are all about roughly the same thing. And it shouldn't, because you are the only person who has read precisely what you have read, thought precisely your thoughts about it, and applied them precisely to the way you see your subject and to your learning.)

One point that is not covered in this leaflet may seem very important to the reader who will assess your work. That is the necessity of referencing your Literature appropriately and correctly. Use your Department's guidelines (probably in a Student Handbook) - or look in the separate AWE leaflet on Referencing.

Good luck!


Literature reviews

The purpose of a Literature Review

Be sure what is meant by 'literature'

How to write a Literature Review