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Lehigh University Libraries - Library Guides

Literature Reviews: Using Library Resources in Writing

General Tips

This box provides contacts who can assist you in writing a literature review, plus tips for writing one. The boxes below provide general resources as well as resources relating to the specific type of review you want to write.


CONTACTS

Consider these contacts for writing assistance 


GENERAL TIPS FOR WRITING LITERATURE REVIEWS

After selecting the type of review you want to do, look for models of them; see Literature Searching above.


It is important to design a note-taking system. See the section about note-taking in this library guide. As you note-take, do not get sloppy: add quotation marks if your notes reproduce verbatim something you have read. Otherwise you may unintentionally plagiarize. 


An annotated bibliography can play an important role in writing a literature review. An annotated bibliography is a list of the publications you will reference in your writing. As you write the annotations, focus just on summarizing only those points in the publications that are directly relevant to the thesis or hypothesis that your writing will defend. Avoid writing an annotation that just summarizes a bunch of details that are not directly related to your research. Then, take the annotations and synthesize them into a narrative. 


Aside from the ethical issue of citing unread items, citing without reading does not help your reader, which is an important role for your literature review.

General resources about writing literature reviews

Some general guides about writing literature reviews are immediately below. See the boxes for resources relating to writing specific types of literature review. Search the online catalog for other materials.

Literature Review for a Dissertation or Thesis

The following is a library guide about writing dissertations and theses. The library guide can help you find models, from Lehigh or elsewhere, for writing a literature review section for a dissertation or thesis. See the  section "Find Sample Dissertations or Theses".  Also, see the box under "Write" labeled "Writing dissertations or theses (including the literature review)" for examples of books that discuss writing a literature review for a dissertation or review.

Scholarly Journal Article: Literature Review Section

  • Look at recently published journal articles for models of how to write your literature review section, especially for the journal to which you will submit your manuscript.
  • Author guidelines at a journal's website may provide guidelines about writing the literature review section. For example, see here, which counsels that the introduction of Journal of Biological Chemistry articles "should present the purpose of the study and its relationship to earlier work in the field; it is not meant to be an extensive review of the literature."
  • See the guide Writing an Impactful Journal Article: Resources and Tips for some resource ideas (see the Writing page.)

Scholarly review article

A subset of scholarly journal articles are entirely devoted to reviewing the literature in a field.

Some suggestions for writing one:

  • consult the author guidelines at the website for a journal for guidelines about writing a review article for that journal (see example below);
  • look at examples of recently published review articles for examples or models.
  • check with the science librarian for ways to use databases to identify journals that publish reviews in your subject niche, including highly cited ones.

As you write the literature review section of your dissertation or thesis, or if you are a seasoned researcher who wants to break into a new sub-discipline (or master the literature about some new emerging trend), consider writing a review article as a way to master the recent literature. For examples, search in Web of Science and other databases that let you limit by review articles. Also, for tips about writing review articles, do a google search on the topic of writing a review article. You may want to add to the search your own subject area. 

Given the massive amount of literature in any field, writing a review article provides an enduring contribution to your field and benefits other workers in it.

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Here is an example of author guidelines about review articles for Applied Physics Reviews. It links to a form that asks the author to: "provide an outline of your article and a statement as to what differentiates your proposed article from other Reviews already published on the topic area". Also, it asks for "10 key references that will be discussed in your review". 

Systematic Reviews

Here are some guides that you may want to review for details relevant to writing your own systematic reviews.

Systematic Reviews & Other Review Types Temple University Libraries 

Conducting a Systematic Review  University of Minnesota Libraries: see "Steps for writing a systematic review"

Book reviews

Discusses approaches to book reviews, other resources,   "how to approach writing your review", structure and style, and other topics.

Writing proposals for dissertation/thesis, class papers, and journals

 

Many of the same points about the need to do thorough literature searching also apply to writing a proposal for a project that you have yet to start. Here are some comments about each of these. 

Theses and dissertation proposals  

A literature review can be one important condition on writing a good thesis or dissertation proposal. 

Consult the resources about writing dissertations or theses referenced elsewhere in this guide.

Here is an example:
Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation Author: Blair, Lorrie.  See chapter 3, "Writing the Proposal"


Pitching an idea for a class paper to the professor  

If you are unsure whether a paper topic is appropriate for a class, or whether the literature you intend to read is appropriate, you may want to write a brief summary of what you intend to write and the results of your preliminary literature review, then send these to the professor for comment.


Pitching a journal article  

Mention here that library search skills can be important for two reasons.

One is to see whether a journal is an appropriate place for your work. This guide has some tips about that.

Another is that if you have questions about the appropriateness of your article for a journal (*after* you have looked at the journal's recent issues), you may want to give evidence that your article fills a gap in the literature. This requires that you have done a thorough literature review. Editors are busy, so consider how you want to approach contacting the editor. See the section "Communication with editors" in this article Publishing Journal Articles: Tips for Early-Career Scholars. Keep your communication direct and right to the point.


Pitching a book

To make a compelling case for your book, and also so you do not reinvent the wheel, do a search on the book literature. Scholarly book editors will want to know how a book you propose to them fills a gap in the book literature. Some tools you can use to assess the range of books already published on your topic includes using the WorldCat database and reading book reviews. See Lehigh's catalog for examples of books about writing books, a huge genre, including any tips they may provide about writing book proposals. Look for materials or books about how to turn a dissertation into a book.