Literature Review Outline

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Creating your Literature Review Outline

Once you have selected a topic for your literature review, it is advisable to come up with an outline for the paper. An outline allows you to plan your writing. It provides guidance for the articulation of each idea. It is, however, important to note that an outline is simply a guide. It needn’t dictate the paper structure.

Before you create your paper outline, it is important to have a general idea of the type of structure most favorable for your paper. For example, you may find that chronological arrangement of references favors your argument. For other types of literature reviews, you may find that juxtaposing contrasting citations will substantiate your argument. In this case, a thematic outline will be favorable.

After selecting an outline for the paper, you can now formulate a detailed paper structure. A literature review follows the format outlined below.

Section 1: Introduction

The introduction defines the topic, its scope, and relevance to the subject. When writing your introduction, you need to be clear and concise. Avoid boring readers by including bulky or irrelevant content. The main argument is stated in the form of a thesis. A good thesis is presented in the form of a single arguable statement. The thesis captures your main argument, thereby highlighting the basis of your literature review.

Section 2: Body

The body constitutes the bulk of your literature review. In this section, you discuss the subject in the context of existing research. You appraise sources and compare knowledge resources. This analysis should be thorough and systematic.

Depending on the type of information that you are reviewing, you can use three approaches:

  • Thematic approach
  • Chronological approach
  • Methodological approach

The Thematic approach

Using this method, similar knowledge is discussed, appraised and then contrasted with contrasting views from alternate schools of thought. Literature is categorized according to themes and concepts. When using this approach, use headings to label each section. It is also helpful to explain your grouping criteria. In a literature review about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, you would have a section for Clinical descriptions of PTSD, one for physiological symptoms of PTSD and one of the clinical interventions for PTSD.

The Chronological approach

This approach is concerned with showing the evolution of knowledge. You can select this approach if your aim is to show the progress of knowledge over time. A chronological literature review groups publications according to their date of authorship. This approach is especially suitable for historical studies. Using our example of a literature review on PTSD, a chronological approach would discuss the historical development of treatment methods.

The Methodological approach

The methodical approach focuses on how knowledge is derived. Literature is grouped on the basis of data collection and analysis techniques and research design. The criterion is not the literature’s content; it is the researchers’ methods. This method highlights potential implications of each research methods, showing how each technique contributes to the state of knowledge. An example of a methodical literature review on PTSD would, for example, concern itself with comparing survey-based and observation-based PTSD research findings.

As discussed, the way you arrange your ideas is largely determined by your review’s objectives. If your aim is to discuss the state of knowledge in your field, then a thematic approach is suitable. If you aim to discuss the historical development of knowledge on your topic, you can select the chronological approach. If your focus is on research methods used, then you will find a methodological approach suitable. Irrespective of the literature review approach that you select, ensure that you maintain a cohesive flow of ideas through logical connections and transitive elements. Do not forget to highlight the relevance of each study to your thesis.

When presenting your ideas, it is advisable to start with a general concept before narrowing your argument using (The Funneling technique). This approach is useful for readers who may not have an in-depth understanding of your topic. Use paragraphs to group similar ideas. Include as many paragraphs as necessary to separate different arguments.

Section 3: Conclusion

Your conclusion wraps up your discussion by pointing out the key strengths of your argument and the weaknesses of divergent opinion. It summarizes the insight derived from the literature review, highlighting how it supports the thesis. The conclusion should be short – ideally a couple of paragraphs. This allows you to sum up your argument precisely.

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