How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Proposal

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The purpose of a literature review is to highlight a void in the research that your study will fill. The literature review answers why you should conduct your research. To answer the why behind your study, find and analyze other studies that address similar research questions, or studies that address your research question on a different level. Discuss and present your research question and how the answer you discover will fill in another piece of the puzzle in your field.

1 Search: Cast a Wide Net

Whether you have clearly defined your research question or not, begin your search using academic databases such as JSTOR, EBSCOhost, or ERIC. Your university library system should provide you with a login that may give you free access to articles you would normally have to pay for through these databases. Use the search feature in the academic database to search only for studies published in peer-reviewed journals. Peer-reviewed journals ensure that these studies underwent extensive scrutiny and were combed for best practices. Skim article abstracts to find studies that relate to your topic before downloading and organizing your findings.

2 Introduction: Define Your Research Question

Once you have combed through studies related to your topic and found a question that has yet to be answered, clearly define it in your introduction. Lead your review with this question and explain to your readers that you will demonstrate how the studies you summarize and analyze in the review do not address your specific question. Your question should address a specific population in a specific academic focus using a specific research method. For example, you could look at the effects of a reading intervention on eighth-grade students using quantitative research methods. Clearly defining your question helps define the focus of your review.

3 Body: Summarize Published Studies

The body of your review should be organized methodically to summarize and present the findings of other studies in the field you are addressing. You could organize your findings by date, addressing older studies first and ending with the most recent. You could organize the review by topic, highlighting studies in your specific population, then academic focus, then research method. You could also move from broad studies to more specific, smaller studies, or vice versa. The findings of your search guide how you organize the literature based on the focus and volume of the studies in your chosen field.

4 Conclusion: Present Your Why

In the conclusion of your review, restate your research question and point to how other studies addressed similar or related questions but did not answer your question for your chosen population, topic and research method. For example, point to studies that addressed the effects of your reading intervention on elementary school students but not on eighth-grade students. Or point out that a qualitative study was conducted using one subject, but your focus is a quantitative study using a much larger population sample. Convince your reader that your study will fill a void in the research that already exists.

5 References: Provide Thorough Citations

Once you have composed the body of your review, ensure all of your citations are correctly formatted and write your references pages. APA style has clearly defined guidelines for formatting in-text citations and references. Use your APA manual for all referencing questions. However, allot extensive time to organizing all articles and building your reference pages. Ensure you have listed all authors, know the journal source for each article, and have accurate page numbers for each article.

Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.