literature review

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    Ibrahim Al-Jubari

    Is there any generally accepted format of literature review in social sciences? 

    Ibrahim Al-Jubari

    Thanks Dave. Also, is there any template formatting for writing a summary of the literature?


    Dr. Quah ChengSim

    Dear Ibrahim,

    There are different ways to organize your literature review. Importantly, make use of subheadings to bring order and coherence to your review.  Make the literature write up like you are telling a story to the readers by providing a stimulating and engaging manner. When you quote a person, try to give credits to those who you quoted and those who have laid the groundwork for your research. Besides that, try to demonstrate your ability in critically evaluate relevant literature information.  On the other hand, if possible, try to indicate your ability to integrate and synthesize the existing literature. Most importantly, when writing the literature, try to convince your readers by providing new theoretical insights for your research via resolving an important theoretical issue or filling a major gap in the literature.

    Typically, students use to have flaws in writing their literature review by being too repetitive and verbose. Sometimes, they are lacking of focus and coherence in their write up until to the extent they are too incline to irrelevant or trivial references. This reason caused them in failing to cite influential papers. The problem stems from the fact that they are too depended on secondary sources as well as out dated sources and these reasons contribute to difficulty in writing critically. Consequently, their write ups can’t keep up with the recent developments.  


    I hope this information is useful for you in writing your literature.


    Quah ChengSim

    Ibrahim Al-Jubari

    Thank you Dr. Quah ChengSim. That was really informative. 

    Katie Metzler

    If you’re looking for some good advice on writing your literature review, you might want to try one of these books:

    If you click on the links for individual titles and then click on the tab for ‘Sample material’ you will find some free chapters which you can access electronically and which may help you.

    Good luck!!


    Karin Hannes

    If you want it to be systematic and qualitative, check out the supplemental guidance of the Cochrane Qualitative Research Methods Group on their website.

    If you want it to be systematic and quantitative, check out the websites from the Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations.

    And of course, you can mix both streams in a mixed-method synthesis: check out some examples at the London EPPI-centre website or some comprehensive reviews in the Joanna Briggs Institute database of reviews.


    Karin Hannes

    Fred Garlick

    This may be stating the obvious but the value of the Literature Review is basically two-fold:

    Firstly, yiu need it because unless you are really expert in the study area you simply willnot know enough to devise a research question and a research plan.

    Secondly, when you get to the end of your study and after processing your results one of the main ways od drawing conclusions is to actively use the knowledge and insights the literature review has given you.



    The answer to your question is no. If you read different universities’ dissertations, you’ll discover some have expectations separate from the APA or ASA formats. However, there is no real uniform format.

    That said, there are some real expectations. You should cover your rationale for your conceptual or theoretical framework, discuss each of your variables or factors, compare the important aspects of the literature surrounding each and how they relate to your study, and demonstrate the research gap you’re trying to fill in your study is actually a research gap based on the current research available.

    How far along are you? If you’re near the beginning of the literature review development process, you can benefit from concept mapping, outlines, and organizers to help you put some structure to your work. If you’re more advanced, then you’re in the thick of comparing and contrasting and probably are seeing a logical structure to your work already evolving.

    You know, after chairing dissertations and working with a large number of students on their literature reviews, I wrote an easy-to-use book on just what you’re asking about–the nuts and bolts of the literature review and writing process. It’s titled Literature Reviews Made Easy, and it’s available on Amazon if you’re interested in checking it out.

    I hope this helps,

    Paula Dawidowicz

    Rebecca Rees

    Like Karin, I also rate the Cochrane materials (and those of the Campbell Collaboration) if you are keen to review literature so as to examine the impacts that interventions (social or otherwise) might have.

    But there’s also a SAGE research methods book coming out on this issue very soon, which might be of interest to you. This is based around teaching at the EPPI-Centre at the Institute of Education in London, where we argue that we need a pluralistic approach to reviewing the literature so as to address the range of different objectives that reviews can have. I’ve just written a short description of the book for my students – please forgive the marketing sounding language!

    The book presents a framework to help reviewers create reviews that are fit for purpose. Readers are presented with examples: from systematic maps that illuminate the breadth, extent and nature of research activity in a given area, through reviews that aim to synthesise, to meta-reviews that review other reviews. The book identifies the numerous dimensions of difference that are at play, identifying the concepts of aggregation and configuration as particularly useful. The former aims to add up the findings of primary studies to answer a review’s question, the second seeks to arrange findings for greater coherence. Many reviews will do a combination of both things.


    More on the book here

    and our courses here

    Jim Vander Putten

    In my view, the original poster’s question is too broad to be answered accurately. Lit review for what purpose? An annotated bib? A research proposal? A masters thesis? A doctoral dissertation? A grant proposal?

    In which social science discipline? For example, in the U.S., generally accepted format in Public Administration is far different that in Education. In Education, *summarizing* the literature (“who said what”) is insufficient, and it needs to be analyzed and interpreted.

    What efforts have you already made to attempt to find answers to your question? This is useful to know so I can avoid wasting time telling you what you already know. If no attempt has been made to read the previous literature on lit reviews, then I think it’s necessary to do some reading before posting questions requesting assistance. Since this forum is hosted by Sage, their catalog is an excellent place to start.

    I hope this helps…

    Payal Kumar

    Christ Hart “Doing a Literature Review” is the best resource to answer any doubt on literature reviews!



    Hi Ibrahim

    There is no standardized format of doing literature review but a decent way and also using comprehensive approach, you may do it thematically. The other way may be, you do your review under the broader domains that you have undertaken for your study so that it may serve the last purpose that is, ultimately making out some knowledge out of your review which can help in understanding about the main objective of your investigation

    Fred Garlick

    Here is a simple outline of what a literature review might look like in a project or dissertation. It in general deals with preparing for research by becoming a topic area expert thus all the following must be covered although you do not have to use these particular sub-headings. Normally there are two major areas to be covered: the direct topic such as blood and the a specific area such as PSA tests. 

    In all learning there is an element of serendipity, but whilst it is important to recognise that leaning can occur at any time or place; good learner will take steps to ensure their work is systematic, structured and organized rather than haphazard. In addition, the work has to systemic so that every part contributes to and helps every other part. So in the literatures review your knowledge is on display and readers can judge if it has scholarly qualities rather that haphazard ones; betraying a poor and careless mind or a lack of real effort.

    Introduction to topic area
    Your Research Theme (Based on personal viewpoints/idea/Experiences etc) 
    Topic aspect 1
    Topic aspect 2
    Topic aspect ‘n’ etc (usually about 5 to 10 topic aspects are used)
    Past Research in this area
    Statistical Review (if necessary)
    Summary and review conclusions

    Keep in mind that this work must be thorough otherwise you will simply not have the necessary knowledge to decide what data to use or how to interpret that data when you get it. It should also be noted that this is about using primary sources such as Journals, government papers, manufacturer’s guidance notes and so on although books may also be included. Please do not quote from unreliable internet though you might use sources such a Wikipedia to get you started. Finally, a review must be original to you even though you have perhaps used many other authors, it is essential that in your review explores what you have found and not simply report it. Roughly speaking, one cites a sources in some way and then you add comments of your own by way of elaboration, explanation, exploration or discussion. In summary, there is a need to be:

    Exploratory – look for all the information you need.
    Focus – subject areas will be too big to know everything so we focus on one or two aspects.
    Scholarly – where was the information obtained? No one wants to be labelled as a plagiarizer. 
    Correct – that is you need to make sure that you have validated the information/evidence.
    Systematic – there should be some structural logics to the way you build up the information base.
    Systemic – the work should make plain that it all fits together into a satisfying whole
    Comprehensive – there is a need to be sure we have left out nothing that is important.
    Questioning – think about what questions still need answering or equivalently try to be clear about any gaps.
    Reflective – consider critically whether we need to change or add to what we already know.
    Credible – there is a need to feel that your readers will find both you and your knowledge base as believable.


    Your answer is very useful for me too.

    Barry White

    Hi Ibrahim, Try ‘Mapping your Thesis’ (ACER Press, 2011). The book has two chapters on Lit Reviews, some of  the chapters in the book are on Google Books.

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