The purpose of an academic research paper is to express and document an original idea. Literature Review is one part of that process of writing a research paper. In a research paper, you use the literature as a starting point, a building block and as evidence of a new insight. The goal of the literature review is only to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others. You should not present your original idea.
The reading that you do as part of a literature review will answer one of two questions:
“What do we know about the subject of our study?”
“Based on what we know, what conclusions can we draw about the research question?”
Notice that the conclusions to be drawn are about the research question, as opposed to a novel theory.
The types of conclusions about your research question that you want to discover are:
❖ gaps in the knowledge on a subject area
❖ questions about your topic that remain unanswered
❖ areas of disagreement in your subject area that need to be settled.
There are a number of differing descriptions of the purpose of a literature review. Primarily it is a tool for
❖ researching the history of scholarly publication on a topic
❖ becoming aware of the scholarly debate within a topic
❖ a summary or restatement of conclusions from research which has been published
❖ synthesis or recombining, comparing and contrasting, the ideas of others.
❖ evaluate sources
❖ search for gaps
A literature review provides a comprehensive overview of a topic, supporting the fundamental purpose of a research paper, which is to present a new point of view or insight on a topic. The literature review supports the new insight. It does not present or argue for it.
❖ Choose a topic
❖ Find research
❖ Organize sources/notetaking
❖ Evaluate Sources
❖ Synthesize: think of this phase as a narrative.
There are various ways of organizing the literature review process- if one of these seems closer to your purpose, try it out.