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MENA 354/448: Middle East and North Africa Seminar (Dr. Courtney Dorroll) *: Writing the Literature Review

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Emily Witsell

Tips for Writing a Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to communicate to your reader what we know - and don't know - about a topic, based on what has been written about your topic in the scholarly literature. Your literature review should SUMMARIZE and SYNTHESIZE research articles that are relevant to your topic. Despite the name "literature review," you are not giving your opinion on a topic or article, as in a movie review; you are recapping what research has already been done in order to point out what new research (YOUR research!) needs to be carried out, and to help your reader situate your research in the context of academic work that has already been carried out.

  • Choose your sources selectively from your annotated bibliography. Use the most helpful articles and books to set the reader up to understand the state of your field of research.
  • Think about how to organize your review. Most literature reviews are organized chronologically (from the earliest article to the most recent), by theme, or by the methodology the authors use.
  • Your literature review is not meant to review articles in the sense of giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down; however, if a study seems poorly carried out, or has a major limitation, you should discuss that in the context of research you intend to do.
  • Look for gaps in the literature - things that have not been studied yet. Finding an important gap and proposing how to fill it (with your research) is one of the goals of a literature review!
  • Look at literature reviews in journal articles about your topic to see how academics write literature reviews.

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