Writing the Literature
A Guide for Exercise & Sport Science,
Music, Psychology, & other Majors
The literature review: A synthesis of studies on any given topic.
Usually precedes a full-length original study as a way of introducing
the general topic.
Its purpose: To help the reader understand the background to your
study and see how it’s the next logical study to be conducted in this
Necessarily, a good literature review requires a thoroughly researched
Be prepared for a writing process. Do not attempt to write a literature
review over night. This process takes weeks and months. Yes, months.
There are a number of preliminary steps to
Determine whether the literature review will be
quantitative (must be theory-driven) or
qualitative. Either choice will determine your
emphasis on statistics.
Topic selection and narrowing.
Research, research, research . . .
Work with your professor and/or research project mentor to select your
Examine a wide array of resources for ideas on topic selection:
Titles and abstracts of other articles
Broad theories (as areas for exploration)
Delimitations (to find a niche)
Remember to brainstorm with other individuals. The Writing Center is
awesome for this.
Do not develop an outline at this stage. Research first. Outline later.
Use RefWorks to help you keep your research organized.
Be professional in your selection of sources.
Peer-reviewed articles are a BIG deal.
Databases are an enormous resource for a literature review assignment.
PsychARTICLES, PsychINFO, ERIC, etc.
Abstract databases are helpful; if used, be sure to order articles. You can’t cite
from mere abstracts in your paper. You must read and cite the entire article.
Cast your net wide.
Remember to use your database’s thesaurus to explore more options for
Use every search tool available to you. Google Scholar can be useful, if your
professor allows Internet research. (Dr. Fox: No Internet Web sites!)
Ensure your information is both accurate and unbiased.
Stick to peer reviewed sources only. (It’s worth repeating. )
Some Internet sources can be very up-to-date and therefore can be especially
useful if statistics are required. (FedStats.gov, state government Web sites, etc.)
Be guarded against any research that claims to “prove” an idea. Unequivocal results are
Consider each study’s methods, measurements, and significance to evaluate whether
you should use it.
Finally, take caution when you encounter research studies--especially qualitative
research studies--that attempt to show causality.
Organizing & Outlining
Organization is key to the construction of an effective literature review.
Let your outline flow from your research.
Good organization begins with conscientious research.
Take thorough research notes. Begin grouping your sources by topic,
delimitation, and chronology. Make piles on a large table. Literally.
Pay extremely good attention to key definitions as you do your research.
Establish which studies are going to be most important for your review; take
more thorough notes on these studies.
However, avoid too many quotations in your notes. Dr. Fox allows only 1-2
quotations maximum! Learn how to paraphrase well. (The writing center can
Use RefWorks to keep all the information organized.
Organizing & Outlining
Create a topic outline before you begin drafting
In your literature review’s Introduction:
Identify the topic
Establish the topic’s importance
Define any crucial terms
Engage in any theoretical discussions that are necessary for the logic of your literature
Arrange the raw research. This part of outlining will be considerably easier if you’ve done a
good job organizing the data ahead of time (i.e., worked from piles!).
Remember as you outline: Logical cohesion and flow are vital!
Follow your topic outline as you write.
Develop and maintain a logical progression (think: giant funnel). This
paper is not a (glorified) list.
Demonstrate consistencies in and relationships between the literature
Likewise, emphasize the stronger studies (e.g., have better
measurements or more consistent methods) over ones that are
Make the implications of your information and any suggestions for further
research as specific as possible.
A sample paragraph
Researchers have conducted studies about siblings of special needs and
autistic children because this group is vulnerable to adjustment difficulties (Cuskelly,
1999). In fact, specialists have compared the sibling-autism relationship to the MR
relationship. They have also studied the importance of the family, and particularly
the mother, in this relationship. In addition, Kaminsky and Dewey (2001) found that
the autism-sibling relationship is characterized by less intimacy and pro-social
behavior. This study likewise reports that these relationships were marked by fewer
instances of quarreling. While this phenomenon may occur because of the unique
situation of the autism-sibling relationship, less fighting is also a positive illustration
of a relationship marked by more admiration. Furthermore, Rivers and Stoneman
(2003) define this relationship as asymmetrical. These results are also similar to the
MR-sibling relationship, as reported by Knott, et al. (1995). Rivers and Stoneman
(2003) reveal, too, that parents worry about the autism-sibling relationship in their
families. The importance of the family’s influence on the autism-sibling relationship
is very useful for this research study and thus, will be discussed in the conclusion of
the literature review. ~Ellen Geib, CU Writing Center Tutor
Introduction: Explain literature review structure.
Thesis: Establish the logical progression.
Conclusion: Specifically identify the study that will
follow (i.e., your original study!) as a result of this
Drafting: Pitfalls to Avoid
Unprofessional language: Avoid the appearance of cheekiness or
Don’t plagiarize! Be extremely careful with your paraphrasing. In fact,
attend or view online the writing center’s workshop, Writing Papers with a
Too many quotations: Only quote those elements which need the
utmost precision. In Dr. Fox’s class, one or two quotations max.
Lack of Fluency and Cohesiveness: Your literature review should not
read like a list of facts.
Use transitions to develop fluency. APA headings do not substitute
Show connections between the literature
Develop your thesis in the paper itself.
Go Forth and Write!
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