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Writing a Literature Review


Students may often try writing literature reviews as part of their thesis projects. These literature reviews, whether written formally or informally, may help them critically analyze the research sources they have accumulated, or they may serve as part of the thesis outright, particularly in the form of offering literary criticism for a literature thesis. Whatever the purpose, though, writing a literature review differs from writing other academic pieces in several ways.

First, the student who is writing a literature review may find the task easier than other academic projects, because he or she does not primarily have to write a synthesis of many different works. Rather, the student analyzes one work of literature as closely as possible; he or she interacts with the text for its form, content, logic, and research accuracy. While other sources may confirm or deny conclusions, the student does not have to depend heavily on them for the bulk of the review material. Writing a literature review should be an exercise in sharpening one's own critical thinking skills rather than borrowing from other people's ideas.

Second, students who are writing literature reviews can and should exert an authoritative voice over the material. While other projects may require the student to adhere closely to verifiable evidence, writing a literature review provides a forum in which to express personal opinion freely. However, because the review is still an academic work, the review writer should try to remain as unemotional and as reserved in tone as possible.

Third, writing a literature review requires a student to draw upon all prior knowledge of the subject in making assessments of the work of literature. While other academic projects, such as term papers or essays, may allow the student to learn a new subject briefly, he or she should not attempt to write a literature review on an unfamiliar subject. Because a literature review draws from the prior knowledge that its writer has of the subject, one who writes a review on an unfamiliar subject will not be able to critique the work competently.


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