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Writing a Literature Review

Writing Your Literature Review

A literature review is NOT an annotated bibliography. It should be a discursive piece of writing that combines, analyses and evaluates what is currently known and published about a particular topic.

The introduction specifies your literature review topic and its relevance to the discipline in question. As with any other research paper, your introduction should preview the synthesis and the conclusion that you will come to, based on your analysis and evaluation. 

A stand-alone literature review will often mention which databases and search words the author used. The criteria for including or excluding articles are stated and explained. The following is a screen capture from “Fish, food security and health in Pacific Island countries and territories: a systematic literature review”:

There are many ways of organizing the body of your literature review, including theme, methodology and chronology. Since a literature review is a critical evaluation of existing knowledge, it is useful to compare works that share the same themes or use similar methodologies. This allows for a more discursive reading of the current knowledge, rather than a simple list of available literature. The following are three types of literature reviews, all on the topic of farming and food security; however, each uses a different organizing concept. 

Organizing Concept Example
Theme/Trend Farming approaches for greater biodiversity, livelihoods, and food security
Six types of farming systems (conventional, sustainably intensified, organic, diversified, ecologically intensified and agroecological) are examined, looking at their similarities and differences. After surveying current literature, the authors conclude that further study is required on how farming trends affect a community’s socioeconomic status.
Chronology Evolution of regional to global paddy rice mapping methods: A review 
Rice paddies play an important role food security, but also contribute to climate change and disease transmission. This review tracks the agricultural efforts and the technology behind the mapping of rice paddies between 1987 and 2015. The authors contend there is a lack of comprehensive information on mapping technology, nor is there a systematic way of taking measurements across time and geography. 
Methodology Yield gaps in rice-based farming systems: Insights from local studies and prospects for future analysis  
This review examines and compares the methodologies used to measure rice-yield gaps across different geographical regions. The authors recommend that future studies on rice-yield gaps take local ecosystems into consideration.

This is the place to summarize the results of your analysis of the current literature, highlighting what key information is known and what areas need further study. You can also provide suggestions for possible future studies, or demonstrate why your proposed research merits further study.