Key structural elements of a literature review.

Big learning: How to recognize the main elements of a literature review and how to conduct one.

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How to do a successful literature review: the critical elements & key parts in the process

A literature review is one of the essential elements of the research report. Two aspects of any credible scholarly article include the article having an abstract and a literature review.

In Literature Review, a student is expected to not only summarize the topic but also to show critical analysis of the subject using reasonable arguments, discussions, and approaches. 

 necessary elements of lit review

What is the main aim of the literature review?

• To show that you have read and that you have a better understanding of the central published work involving a specific topic or question regarding research development.

• To identify and highlight crucial variables and to document the significant findings from old research

• To cover all studies related to the research to understand the current practices.

• Show the difference in authors’ views concerning different issues

• To show the importance of the chosen topic

• To explain the choice of the research question

• To provide the history of the study

• To relate your research to the previous ones and show understanding of the topic 

A review article, often called a literature review or secondary source, is a principal, constructive analysis of literature in a particular field of study sought through summarizing classifications, analyses, and comparisons. A review article is also a type of scientific text which purely depends on data or literature which has been previously published. Finally, a review article can be an independent publication whereby literature reviews and Ph.D. theses won’t be given priority in this section.

Does a review article serve any purpose? –Yes

  • A review article helps in organizing literature

You can opt to write a review in chronological order according to when the materials used in your review were published. Literature can be organized by publication, conceptual categories, Methodological, current situations, history, selection methods, standards and questions used for further research

  • To evaluate literature

Before getting to decide whether to include the information you have come up with or not in your review, you will need to evaluate the literature itself to ensure that it contains information that is informative and appropriate. This makes, even more, sense when the sources you have collected for your literature review are not sources from a library, which is an academic one, but the information has been scrapped from the internet. Online resources need one to be very careful, and it’s therefore recommended to base your research from a reputable library resource

  • Identifying patterns and trends in literature

The literature analysis involves the aggregation of information at several levels, which can range from words to sentences and even larger properties of temporal narratives, for example, structure, plot, and the usage of irony and metaphors. Qualitative methods have, in a long time now been used in literature and most outstandingly in style analysis, which can be traced from the work of a historian-philosopher by the name Wincenty Lutaslowski who introduced basic statistical ideas concerning word usage to the problematic issue of dating Plato’s dialogues.

  • To synthesize literature


This involves the art of combining two or more elements to form a new whole. In the literature review, ‘elements’ are the findings of the gathered literature that you have read, the ‘whole’ is the conclusive ideas that you come up with from those findings. It’s essential to synthesize and to draw conclusions concerning the conclusions of the literature for you to identify how literature responds to your research question.

  • To identify gaps in research and come up with recommendations for new research avenues

These can be defined as missing pieces in the research literature, and this is a typical area that is yet to be traversed, or it’s explored but not exhaustively. This can range from population samples, research methods, the collection of data, or the data analysis. 


Elements of a good literature review

1.    The Title

The title has a function of aiding readers to decide whether or not they should commence reading the text. The title must be relevant and be able to serve the purpose of being informative, and by doing this, the title should contain important terms, and it has to be clear that the text us a review article. It can also include the article's message (Jrekka, 2007). The title ought to be brief and concise though a longer subtitle can serve as an option in cases where there needs to be a specification. The tense to be used in the title section should be the present tense since it puts emphasis on the validity of the outcomes and illustrates what the author is trying to achieve with the article text. The length of the title should be within the range of 8-12, and it can be in the form of a question if at all, the question does remain unanswered at the time of writing the review.

2.    Author list

The purpose of the author list is to provide a declaration of the intellectual ownership of the work by providing contact information. The elements of the list of authors are first; the decision on authorship, which means everyone who contributed significantly towards the literature search, exploration, and the writing process, should be included. Secondly, there is an order in which the authors should be listed. The first author is the author who has contributed significantly to most research work and also written the most important sections of the literature. Between the first and the last author who have also contributed to the literature of the review should be included and ordered alphabetically, which is a way of indicating equality. The last author did manage the overall project, and he or she is the one who had the original idea. Ensure you have discussed this section early enough in your writing.

3.    The Abstract

The function of the abstract is to infirm regarding the chief objective and the result if the review article for informative abstracts or it can indicate the structure of the text in descriptive abstracts. For descriptive abstracts (used for narrative reviews), the subject description is covered without any specific details and always remember that a descriptive abstract is just like a table of contents but in paragraph form. This section exclusively uses the present tense, and the length stands between 200 words and 250 words.

4.    The Table of Contents

The function of the table of contents is to make the organization of text to be clear to the reader; also, it helps to orientate the reader among the different sections of text.

5.    The introduction

The introduction provides information regarding the context, and it also indicated the motivation for coming up with the review. It does define the focus, the research question, and explains the structure of the text. The present tense is used in this section, but you ought to use past tense for the classification of your methods and your results. The elements of a good introduction are the subject background, which discusses the span of concern, the next is discussing the problem, and the final is the motivation, which indicates the reason of the author to review the literature.

6.    The Body (first section)

This encompasses the materials and methods used. Its function is to enable researchers to repeat the review. Information that should be made available at this stage is the data sources, search terms, and strategies, and the statistical methods, among many other things that enabled the analysis of the review to become a success.

7.    Body (second section-main)

The body should contain the section structure, which includes the methodical or systematic approaches, models, the extent of thesis support, studies that both agree and disagree chronological order, and the geographic location. The second section is the paragraph structure, which should follow certain rules which are; first- ensuring that only one idea is discussed per paragraph and make sure that you have referred to several studies per paragraph, not just one. The third section is the links, which are just a way to link the findings from your research to the introduction question and making sure that you have linked all studies to each other and go ahead to compare and discuss these relationships. The fourth aspect is tense to be used, and the tenses used are the present, simple past, and present perfect, which refers to an area of research where there were independent researchers who were directly involved.

8.    The conclusion

Make sure that you have answered the research question which was raised in the introduction section. This section should contain the effects of the findings, the author's interpretation, and the highlighting of the questions which ended up without being resolved. There are no citations at this point, and the length should stick at 10% or less of the main text, which encompasses the introduction, body, and conclusion.

9.    Acknowledgments

Serves the function of expressing gratitude and appreciation to all those people who were involved with coming up with the literature, structuring of the material. At this point, you express indebtedness to the funding sources, and you specify the funding sources. Include their full name of the people or agencies and make sure that you use the present tense but use past tense when citing agencies.

10.    Reference section

The references ensure that the literature mentioned in the text can be easily found by the reader. It also acknowledges the work of other people in that field of study, which came up with various discoveries. This section helps you to avoid the plagiarism charges. A maximum of 100 references are to be used and a minimum of 50.

11.    Illustrations: Concept map

A concept map is used in review articles to aid in visualizing the topic structure to display the relationships between studies, models, and theories. It’s a graphic organizer which aids scholars, in the organization of a particular subject and this case, the organization of a review article by starting with the main concept and branching out showing how the main idea can be broken down to furthermore specific topics.


Challenging elements of preparing & writing a Literature Review

1.    Reading and Understanding the Instructions

This is a significant step that will guide you in writing your literature review. If the instructions are provided, ensure that you go through them and that you fully understand what is needed.   Ask for clarification where needed. For example, the number of sources required, the type of necessary sources, review the APA guidelines if you’re not familiar with the format



2.    Deciding on a topic

The secret to writing a brilliant Literature review is:

Choose a topic that you find interesting. This will act as a driving force towards your writing since it is something that you are passionate about. 

Choose a topic that is important in the field and which will attract a reasonable number of readers to your review. 

Choose a well-elaborated issue. This is to help you avoid unnecessary information, which would make your review unhelpful. The chosen topic will act as a defining factor for your targeted audience.


3.    Conducting Literature Research

Now that you have your topic and target audience, you can start doing your research. You should look for books that relate to your chosen literature subject. Visiting the library can be helpful as well as searching for sources online. To help you get a better idea, you can look for other literature reviews on the same subject to help you get an idea of which themes to tackle in your review. Ensure that you have an extensive amount of material to help you build you to review before starting the writing process. You do not want to get stuck while you’re in the middle of writing due to lack of some information. 


4.    The analysis of literature 

Now that you have chosen your sources, the next step is to analyze the literature. This is where the breakdown process begins. You will need to arrange your sources. Make sure you take notes while reading and that you highlight which books you obtained the points from (citing the references also); otherwise, you’ll get confused when you start writing. These notes will help you build the structure of your review even before you begin the writing process. Note down all the crucial details like quotes – ensure to reference them too, note the strengths and weaknesses of the different articles, identify the different views between different authors, and other additional details which you think might be important in your writing process.  Ensure that you remain focused on the topic since you can quickly lose focus on this stage.   Grouping the points according to similarities or differences will prove to be the perfect guide for when you’re writing your review.


5.    Epitomizing the literature

Now that you have your points listed down. The next step is to summarize them. This means a further breakdown of the points you have taken down. The points you get from here are the leading guides to your complete review. They help you structure your review and give you an outline in terms of what will come first, in the middle, and what will fit at the end


6.    Writing the review

Using your summarized points as guidelines, you can begin the process of writing. Your introduction should introduce your review topic and explain why it is important. It should discuss the theme of your literature review while keeping it short and clear. It is important to state what your review will and will not be discussing.


The summarized points come in handy in the body of your review. Check how you structured your points and used them as a guiding factor on how to write the body of your review. You can use specific organizational principles to structure your review rather than addressing each point separately. These include:

Theme:  Here, the points are organized based on the topic. It classifies all the sources which have a similar theme instead of explaining them in separate paragraphs. It is usually the most common principle.

Methodological: This one focuses on the methods used by the writers in the sources used. Here the points are organized according to similarities in their methodologies.

Chronological: This is where the articles are organized according to similarities in the time frame.

You should use brief and precise sentences in all the paragraphs. Remember respectful to the author's opinions as much as you might disagree with them. Also, use the proper language and avoid strong personal opinions. For issues that you will not be discussing in detail, you can refer the reader to other reviews. If you decide to state points that are not in your sources, remember to back them up by citing them.   It is essential to show the reader your point of view from the beginning. State your arguments clearly and have evidence to back them up. 

Your conclusion should have a summary of your whole review. You should explain your findings from the analysis. It should explain the significant similarities and differences in the analysis and also significant similarities. You can state your suggestions for how your future research will contribute to the existing works and help bridge the gaps.



7.    The constant cycle of editing your literature review

Once your Literature Review is ostensibly finished, and it has ‘blossomed’ to a plumptuous 11,200 words, it’s time to do the editing part. Go back to the topic and check that whatever you’ve written explains and answers the question. Go through the whole review and make sure everything is where it is supposed to be. Check for grammatical errors, correct formatting, make sure that the quotes (if any) are correctly sited, and check that your references are also correctly cited. Rewrite where necessary and ensure that your whole review works together from the introduction to the conclusion. Go through the material until you are fully satisfied with the outcome. Alternatively, you can get a friend who is qualified enough to go through your review and point out any areas which might need changing. 


5 elements in doing Literature Review (LR):

1. Review of Literature 

2. Problem Formulation 

3. Literature Search 

4. Evaluation of findings 

5. Analysis & Interpretation of LR


• The research question helps in narrowing topics and limiting the number of resources.

• Identifying authors interested in specialism, prominent in a subject area and can help to justify the importance of research ideas, including their ability to contradict related ideas.

Ideas in writing LR:

1. The theory behind the research problem. 

2. Development of theories. 

3. The occurrence of phenomenon/problem. 

4. Importance of phenomenon. 

5. Factors of affecting phenomenon. 

6. Methods used for studying. 

7. Guides/ Instructions/ Recommendation

 8. Limiting values.

• Findings must be evaluated to get proper understanding to able to write a competent LR, continuous read re-read, and assimilate complex ideas. The importance of data evaluation involves determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic.

• Basically, LR is one of the processes to know the best method and understanding the idea of research.

• Strategy in doing LR, read easy articles to understand when discovering familiarity with the topic related to the subject.

• Discussing the findings and conclusions of literature help in identifying the precise methods used and theories tested.

• Analysis and interpretation of literature allow us to find strength and weakness and the finding of information related to subject covered adequately or not.



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