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Graduate Student Guides

Writing Literature Reviews for Graduate-Level Writing

A literature review should:

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the material
  • Connect the specifics of your work to the “big picture” in your discipline
  • Provide a rationale for your method and/or theoretical framework
  • Establish your contribution to the material and demonstrate the need for your work
  • Generate your bibliography

A literature review may be written independently or be a part of a larger work. It needs to have an overall research question, objective, or thesis. It has two main goals: to summarize and show a body of literature and information, and to critically analyze this body of literature.

 

In addition to literature reviews, there are several different types knowledge synthesis models. This is a brief overview of these complex processes:

  • Narrative ReviewsLike textbooks, they discuss and synthesize information from multiple studies into a coherent narrative. It may be helpful to make an annotated bibliography of your sources that you can use later when drafting a narrative review.
  • Focused Reviews: These are limited in scope to more focused topics.  
  • Systematic ReviewsWell-characterized and have a strict, formal methodology. They look for information about a topic and screen it according to pre-set criteria to reduce author bias. They involve several steps: 
    • 1) Define the question; 2) Plan inclusion/exclusion criteria; 3) Search for studies; 4) Screen studies for inclusion; 5) Collect data from studies; 6) Assess studies for risk of bias; 7) Analyze results; 8) Interpret results; 9) Make conclusions
  • Scoping Reviews: Used to get the “lay of the land” for the research and gaps within a field. Also has extensive search criteria like a systematic review.  
  • Meta-Analysis ReviewsStatistically synthesizes data from multiple studies to try and have higher power in statistical analyses. Studies should ask the same questions and have similar methodologies. 

 

Graduate students can get research support from the Graduate Studies Librarian, Leeanne Romane, by booking a research consultation here. Improve your writing and study skills! Book an appointment with a writing advisor and/or academic coach on OSCARplus.  Questions? Email skills@mcmaster.ca

References and Further Reading

Sternberg, David. How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation. Macmillan, 1981. 

Taylor, Dena. “The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It.” Writing Advice, The University of Toronto, https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/types-of-writing/literature-review/

“Writing a Literature Review.” Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/writing_a_literature_review.html

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