A literature review is a critical summary of published research literature relevant to your research topic. It must be concise and objective while providing background or evidence to support (or counter) the findings or methodology of your study.
Authors should first mention the literature they used in their study in the Introduction section of the research paper. However, literature can also be referenced in the Discussion section to compare your findings and study implications to those of other studies. Literature is cited for the following purposes:
- To provide a historical background for your research
- To explain the current context in which your research is situated
- To discuss relevant theories and concepts that provide the foundation for your research
- To introduce and define relevant terminology
- To provide supporting or undermining evidence for a problem or issue your research addresses
Exactly where the literature fits into the Introduction section depends on what purpose the literature serves. Generally, literature providing a background and foundation for your study will be placed near the beginning of your Introduction, while literature that supports or contrasts with your study’s methods will be placed closer to the hypothesis. Literature that supports or contrasts with your approach rationale should be placed after the hypothesis.
Stand-alone literature reviews and literature reviews as part of a broader work
While literature reviews in most texts sent to academic journals convey research that fits into the broader aims and objectives of a study (in journal articles, dissertations, theses), other literature reviews stand alone and serve to introduce readers to texts related to your study in greater detail (course assignments, literature analysis).
Literature reviews can differ in structure, length, and amount and breadth of the content that should be included. They can range from the selective (a very narrow area of research or only a single work) to the comprehensive (a larger amount of related works or a survey of works). The tips provided in this article can be applied to any kind of literature review.
Literature Review Editing Checklist
When editing and proofreading a research paper or stand-alone literature review, authors should pay close attention to a few issues. A professional editing and proofreading service will catch formatting and punctuation issues, but authors are ultimately responsible for the content and relevance of the works included in the literature review. Pay attention to the following issues when completing a final revision of this section.
Using relevant and reliable research content
When deciding which sources to cite in your literature review, evaluate the studies you have identified and choose the ones that contain information that is valuable and pertinent. This is especially true when your retrieved sources are not indexed in an academic library but are readily accessible through an Internet search. Online resources should be carefully assessed for quality and validity. Therefore, whether planning or revising your literature review, use databases such as EBSCO, Web of Science or Scopus to ensure that your sources are authoritative and reliable.
When assessing the content of the cited work, ask the following questions:
- Is the information reliable and based on peer-reviewed studies?
- Can the information be verified by other reliable sources?
- Is this a primary source (original study)? If not, can you find the primary source and include this in your review instead?
- Is the information objective or subjective? (Do not use subjective content to support the claims or findings of your study.)
- Is the information current and accurate at the time you are submitting your manuscript?
- Does the information provide at least basic coverage of the topic? Would more in-depth coverage be necessary for the given citation?
While editing your manuscript, you may find that you have used too many, too few, or insufficiently relevant sources to bolster your research. By assessing your paper using the above list of questions, you can more quickly and effectively revise your list of cited sources.
Paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism
Paraphrasing external studies in a research paper is crucial to making the work your own and avoiding plagiarism (and general academic laziness). Do not merely list your sources to prove that many studies support your work. Rather, summarize and synthesize the most relevant and important aspects of the literature that pertain to your work.
For example, perhaps some of the main concepts of a study are X, Y, and Z. Note these concepts and then write a summary about how the article incorporates these concepts. For literature reviews listed in the Introduction of a research paper, these can be relatively short. In stand-alone reviews, you should include significantly more texts and more concepts to provide greater detail.
- Ineffective reference to literature: Many scholars have studied the relationship between smoking and dementia (Collins 2015; Franklin et al. 2003; Lee 2005; Jameson et al. 2016).
- Effective reference to literature: While many studies have analyzed the relationship between smoking and dementia, only two major studies in the last decade have made conclusions about nicotine and Alzheimer’s disease (Collins 2015; Franklin et al. 2003). Collins (2015) concluded that…while Franklin et al. (2003) argued that…
Additionally, when you refer to specific information from another study, you must either quote directly (using quotation marks) or paraphrase the work using your own words. Paraphrasing can be difficult. To avoid plagiarizing, authors may not use any phrases or string of terms from the source text without using quotations. In other words, even if you include a parenthetical citation after the claim or statement you have made regarding the source text, you must still ensure that your phrasing is not too similar to the original text.
- Source text: The journal primarily considers empirical and theoretical investigations that enhance understanding of cognitive, motivational, affective, and behavioral psychological phenomena in work and organizational settings, broadly defined.
- Plagiarized reference to source text: The Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP 2015) accepts empirical and theoretical investigations that increase knowledge of motivational, affective, cognitive, and behavioral psychological phenomena in many settings, broadly conceived.
- Blend of paraphrased and quoted text: The Journal of Applied Psychology accepts studies that “enhance understanding of cognitive, motivational, affective, and behavioral psychological phenomena” and that apply to a variety of settings such as “business, education, training, health, service, government, or military institution” (JAP 2015).
Your literature review will not only cover publications on your topics but will also include your own ideas and contributions. By following these steps, you will be able to tell a story that sets the background and shows the significance of your research, turning a network of related works into a focused review of the most significant literature.
Formatting and style guide issues for citations
Although not as holistically important as the content of your cited texts, proper formatting of citations and references is still critical, especially if you are submitting to an academic journal for publication. Citations should closely follow the academic style guide of the journal (APA, MLA, AMA, or a specific journal formatting style). The journal formatting style guidelines can be found in the Guide for Authors on your journal’s website.
In addition to formatting of the parenthetical citations (the information included in parentheses or square brackets), formatting the references at the end of your study is also key. Make sure that all the studies listed in the References section are cited in the body of your research paper, and vice versa. Most academic document editing services provide a formatting check to ensure adherence to your target journal’s requirements.
Wordvice Literature Review Editing
The literature review sets the foundation for a compelling piece of academic writing. An effective, well-written literature review will:
- Demonstrate to readers that you have read many related studies.
- Foreground your main arguments, your research question, and your hypothesis.
- Increase the reliability and continuity of your research.
A strong academic manuscript increases your chances of publication in top journals. And that means you need to present your literature in a clear and compelling way. And that is where expert proofreading and editing can make a difference.
After revising the literature review and other sections of your manuscript before submission, entrust your important work to a reputable academic editing service such as Wordvice. Our professional editors revise your writing, correcting grammar, spelling, and mechanics errors; rephrasing sentences and replacing key terms; and enhancing the flow of writing to make language more natural and academic. With over 500 native English-speaking editors with subject expertise in thousands of academic disciplines, Wordvice provides the most reliably professional online editing services in the industry.