Step 4 of your Literature Review – Writing it Up!

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Note –  if you haven’t done so already, I suggest you go back and read the posts covering Steps 1, 2 and 3 of the literature review: finding stuff, organizing and screening, and normalizing.  Then you’ll be ready to hear about Step 4 – writing.  


If you’ve done all the background work described in the three previous posts, you should now have a binder that contains the first page of each of the references you found, organized by sub-topic.  You should also have a few binders or folders of the actual references. If you’re doing everything electronically, an approach I highly recommend, these will all be organized in virtual folders.

The next step is to write the literature review component for each sub-topic.  The idea here is not to simply regurgitate the information you found in these references by paraphrasing their words or just quoting them. After all, why would we not just read their papers in that case?  Instead, you want to provide some value added content.  Your goal is to clearly present the current-state-of-knowledge on a particular topic.  First, start each sub-section of your literature review with a paragraph introducing that particular sub-topic and explaining why it’s relevant in the context of your thesis.  Then, show how the knowledge on that particular topic has evolved by presenting the contributions of each of your relevant references in chronological order.  It’s usually customary to separate these under sub-headings, titled with the citation as shown in the generic example below.


Paragraph introducing the topic and explaining its relevance

Jones and Smith (1902)

One or more paragraphs describing specifics of their study including data, methods, findings and limitations

Beetlejuice (1932)

One or more paragraphs describing specifics of their study including data, methods , findings and limitations

Do this for all of the references on this sub-topic.

Keep in mind that you want to be as specific as possible about these contributions.  Your reader should end up knowing exactly what they did, what they assumed, what didn’t and didn’t work, and how that moved the knowledge on that sub-topic forward.  By the end of the section on this sub-topic, it should be obvious what is left to do – that will establish your niche. You may want to have a closing paragraph to present this explicitly.

Repeat the pattern for all of the sub-topics in your literature review.  If you like, you might prefer to have one closing paragraph or sub-section for the entire literature review summarizing where this leaves things to establish your niche.  Remember to write in proper paragraphs as you go – all the normal rules of technical writing apply.

What’s coming up next?

In the next few posts we’re going to get away from thesis writing for a while – instead I’ll give some advice on preparing scholarship applications as well as for cover letters needed  when applying for academic and technical positions.

What would you like to see?

If there is a topic you would like to see covered in this blog, or if you would like to contribute a posting to this blog yourself, please use the comment feature to let me know.   Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “Step 4 of your Literature Review – Writing it Up!

    Cassandra said:
    April 6, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I would like to know how to write a plan for a literature review

      Faye Hicks responded:
      April 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Cassandra – I am not sure exactly what you mean – the four posts here sort of cover that I thought. Can you perhaps explain a bit what you are looking for?

        Cassandra said:
        April 27, 2014 at 5:59 pm

        Hi Faye – Could you possibly provide an example of a plan. Is it just subheadings, with a statement, and supporting studies listed under each subheading? How much detail do you put into a plan?

        Faye Hicks responded:
        April 28, 2014 at 8:12 pm

        Hi Cassandra – I guess it depends, what is the purpose of the plan?

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