Writing Literature Reviews - Additional Thoughts
1. Usually best to begin by naming and describing your broad problem area. This would include
conceptual definitions of major terms if you believe your audience may not know their meanings.
2. Good to establish the importance of your topic. You can do this by showing that your topic was
important enough to be investigated by others: Vispoel and Austin (1995).
A recent electronic search of the PsycLIT data base suggests that, in the past 5 years alone, authors of nearly 2,000 published articles and reports drew on some facet of attribution theory (i.e., the word root attribution appearing in the title or text) in attempting to examine motivation- related effect. . . . Numerous critiques, syntheses, and meta-analyses of attribution research further attest to the breadth and depth of literature in this area.. . . (p.378)
You may also establish the importance of a topic by citing statistics that indicate how many people
are affected by a particular problem (for example, how many cases of rape were reported last year)
or how many people are in the population of interest (for example, how many children enrolled in
special classes for the gifted).
3. Next, write a topic-by-topic description of relevant research, and provide major and minor subheadings
to guide a reader through a long literature review. For example, some of the major and minor-
subheadings used by Urdan and Machr (1995) in their review of research on social goals in
achievement are: The Nature of Goals (Defining Goals Within Achievement Goals Theory, Other
Definitions of Goals, Focus on Two Goals), Social Goals: Their Nature, Consequences, and
Antecedents (Direct Examinations of Social Goals, Consequences of Pursuing Social Goals,
Antecedents of Social Goals, Summary)
4. Best to group references together when they have something in common. Also, point out conflicts in the
literature. These principles are followed by Urdan and Machr (1995).
Research has demonstrated that conformity to peers is typically stronger during adolescence than during childhood (Berndt, 1979; Coleman, 1961; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986). Coleman argued that conformity to peers is stronger than conformity to parents during adolescence, but that claim has been qualified (Berndt, 1979; Epstein 1983) and disputed (Berndt & Park, 1989) by others. For example, Epstein (1983) found that. . . . (p. 227)
5. Should indicate the results of the research you are citing and not just describe the research
methodology. In fact, it is often not necessary to discuss methodology; should you elect not to do so,
your readers are likely to assume that you believe it was reasonably strong. However, if you hold the
opposite belief, you might wish to point out specific weaknesses with statements such as: “In a
preliminary pilot study with 14 registered nurses as subjects, Doe and Smith (1996) found. . . .“