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What is a literature review outline?
A literature review outline is a plan for your paper. You can think of it as the skeleton on which you build your argument. It informs the strategy for expression of ideas, enabling you to build towards an authoritative conclusion. Failure to use an outline is akin to going on a journey without a sense of direction. You will risk veering off into random directions without reaching your destination. An outline is a guiding map for your review. With the outline, you can create a logical literature review with minimal effort.
Why write an outline?
A literature review consists of several interdependent parts. These sections draw from one another to produce the scholarly end-product. Like any type of academic writing, it is important to plan out your writing before you begin the review.  That way, you will complete your writing task without having to constantly rearrange your paper. With an outline, you will have a clear idea of what your review task entrails. This clarity of purpose keeps you motivated and immune from the dreaded ‘writers’ block.’ Here, we discuss important tips for writing a literature review outline.

Literature review outline tips

1.      Develop a general idea 

Before you begin, you need to have a general idea on what you want to write about. These ideas can come from brainstorming, work experience or research experience. Examine potential research ideas in the context of current knowledge. This will help you identify literature review opportunities. Search for your preferred idea in literature review repositories to avoid duplicating existing works.  Feel free to change your topic as necessitated by the state of knowledge. After settling on a topic, examine the ideas that support your argument. Think about how current literature could be interpreted to support your thesis. At the end of this stage, you should have a rough idea of what you want to write about.
If you are writing about the impact of climate change on marine mammals, for instance, you’ll probably begin by thinking about how climate change changes aquatic environments. Your research will reveal several ideas on the subject. Your aim should be to develop your initial ideas into a definitive literature review topic. In this case, can set out to prove that changing marine environments affect marine mammals’ feeding, migratory and breeding habits.

2.      Categorize your ideas

Now that you have identified the ideas for your thesis, you can group them. To do this, study the existing literature to identify research that supports your main points. You should then group current research in a manner that illustrates the validity of your thesis. The goal is to demonstrate the scholarly basis for each point you are making. In the example of climate change’s impact on marine mammals, you can group current literature on the basis of animal subjects. The impacts of climate change on seals, polar bears, whales and walruses would all fall into different categories.

3.      Order your ideas 

With your ideas now categorized, the next step is to decide the order in which you will present them. For this step, it is important to study your thesis to determine how to arrange supporting literature. Depending on the arguments you are making, you may choose to arrange ideas chronologically or thematically. Chronological arrangements are premised on the time of publication while thematic arrangements are based on the research subject.
Start the ordering process on the highest level by creating broad categories. You then create subtopics for each section, narrowing the argument and discussing each item in detail. This way, you will identify what parts of your arguments have the strongest scholarly basis. You will also identify weaknesses in your research. Use this insight to look for more research material to back your literature review. In the example of marine environments, you already have your research ideas grouped on the basis of the mammalian subjects. You would then create subheadings for each category. In this instance you would categorize the impact of climate change on feeding habits, breeding habits and migratory behavior. Repeat this for each major category to create a consistent structure for your review.

4.      Putting it all together 

With the ideas now written down and categorized, you have completed the major part of your literature review outline. You can now proceed to write down the material for each section. Do not forget to include an introduction and conclusion section. The introduction acts as a gateway to your paper. Be sure to include information on what your paper is about and what you intend to achieve through the review. The conclusion section wraps up your ideas by restating your thesis and highlighting the implications of the literature review.
In the case of a research paper on climate change’s effect on marine mammals, the introduction would identify the review’s context and state the goals. It would also highlight the research scope. The body would present ideas ordered in categories and subcategories as discussed in tip#3. This would be followed by a conclusion that restates the thesis and outlines the key findings from the analyzed literature.

Sample outline

The sample literature review outline below is for the example discussed above:
Subsection I: Overview and Summary of topic - Provide a brief overview of the impact of climate change on marine mammals.
Subsection II: Thesis statement - The thesis statement summarizes your main point in a clear, concise and arguable statement. In the case of climate change’s impact on marine mammals, a good thesis statement would be – Climate change degrades marine biodiversity due to its disruptive impact on mammals’ feeding, breeding, and migratory habits.

Section II: Literature review
First theme: Impact on seals
·        Sub-theme: Impact on seals’ feeding habits
·        Sub-theme: Impact on seals’ breeding habits
·        Sub-theme: Impact on seals’ migratory habits
First theme: Impact on polar bears
·        Sub-theme: Impact on seals’ feeding habits
·        Sub-theme: Impact on seals’ breeding habits
·        Sub-theme: Impact on seals’ migratory habits
First theme: Impact on whales
·        Sub-theme: Impact on whales’ feeding habits
·        Sub-theme: Impact on whales’ breeding habits
·        Sub-theme: Impact on whales’ migratory habits
Section III: Conclusion
State the major findings from the literature review in the context of your thesis. Note how your study affects the status of knowledge on the subject and highlight potential research areas for the future.


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