Reviewing the Literature: Part II

In the last post, we began a discussion on the steps involved in reviewing the literature and we look at the first two steps, which are identifying key terms and locating literature. In this post, we will look at the last three steps of developing a review of literature which are…

3. Evaluate and select literature to include in your review
4. Organize the literature
5. Write the literature review

Evaluating Literature

This step was alluding to when I wrote about using google scholar and google book in part I. For articles, you want to assess the quality of them by determining who publishes the journal. Reputable publishers usually publish respectable journals. This is not to say that other sources of articles are totally useless. The point is that you want to attract as few questions as possible when it comes to the quality of the sources you use to develop a literature review.

One other important concept in evaluating literature is the relevancy of the sources. You want sources that focus on a similar topic, population, and or problems. It is easy for a review of literature to lose focus so this is a critical criteria to consider.

Organizing the Literature 

There are many options for organizing sources. You can make an outline and group the sources together in by heading or you can construct some sort of visual of the information. The place to start is to examine the abstract of the articles that are going to be a part of your literature review. The abstract is a summary of the study and is a way to get an understanding of a study quickly.

If the abstract indicates that a study is beneficial you can look at the whole article to learn more. If the whole article is unavailable you can use the abstract as a potential source.

Writing a Review of Literature

Writing involves taking your outline or visual and convert it into paragraph format. There are at least three common ways to write a literature review. The three ways are thematic review, study-by-study review, and combo review.

The thematic review shares a theme in research and cites several sources. There is very little detail. The cites support the claim made by the theme. Below is an example using APA formatting.

Smoking is bad for you (James, 2013; Smith, 2012; Thomas, 2009)

The details of the studies above are never shared but it is assumed that these studies all support the claim that smoking is bad for you.

Another type of literature review is the study-by-study review. In this approach, a detailed summary is provided of several studies under a larger theme. Consider the example below

Thomas (2009) found in his study among middle class workers that smoking reduces lifespan by five years.

This example provides details about the dangers of smoking as found in one study.

A combo review is a mixture of the first two approaches. Sometimes you provide a thematic review other times you provide the details of a study-by-study review. This is the most common approach as it’s the easiest to read because it provides an overview with an occasional detail.


The ideas presented here are for providing support in writing review of literature. There are many other ways to approach this but the concepts presented here will provide some guidance.

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