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What Are the Best Tips for Writing a Literature Review?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2016
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Writing a literature review can be a complex and challenging task because it involves demonstrating a firm understanding of a work of literature and making judgments about that literary work. The reviewer owes the writer of the work to be reviewed a great deal of serious attention before making any sweeping judgments, as most major literary works can take years to complete. The most important part of writing an effective literature review, then, is to closely and carefully read the work in question. The next important factor is striving for objectivity to as great an extent as possible. One further important part is remembering that the review is a written work as well and must be well written and well organized to be effective.

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Close reading is an essential part of writing a good literature review, as it is seldom possible to fairly judge the merits and shortcomings of a literary work based on a cursory overview of the work in question. A single quick reading may be sufficient for the reviewer to get a sense of the plot and the basics of the writer's style. A more focused reading, perhaps even a re-reading, however, is generally necessary if the reader wishes to notice and write about more advanced literary devices, allusions, structural features, or persistent symbols that may appear within a literary work. Writing a literature review without a particularly close reading does an injustice to the writer of the reviewed work and to those looking for complete and useful information from the review.

Objectivity is another important part of writing a useful and fair literature review. If the reviewer has a personal bias against a writer, he may not be able to write a completely fair review. A reviewer must take great care to ensure that the literature review is written based only on the merits and shortcomings of the work and is not influenced by any personal prejudices or biases.

It is important to recall that a literature review is, in itself, a written work with merits and shortcomings of its own. The reviewer is responsible not only for giving a fair assessment of the work in question, but also for presenting the assessment in a clear and useful manner. In general, this means using correct grammar and organizing the literature review in a logical fashion. Above and beyond this, however, the reviewer should also strive to make the review interesting, engaging, and entertaining for his readers.

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Ana1234
Post 3

@bythewell - I disagree. I think reviews should, if at all possible, be done without any knowledge of the author. The work should be judged on its own merits and that's all.

If you want to know how to write a literature review, the best thing to do is subscribe to a literary journal that prints them and read as many as you can, by a wide variety of reviewers.

I do think it's important to know the background of a reviewer, to be honest, but the background of the author shouldn't matter at all.

bythewell
Post 2

@browncoat - At the same time you don't want to make the mistake of being "colorblind" when writing a review. I think it's important to take the author's background into account, not as a way to measure merit, but as another factor in the analysis. If someone is writing about their own experience or culture, that's a completely different work than someone writing about a foreign culture or experience.

browncoat
Post 1

If you want to be a decent reviewer you really have to come to understand yourself and your own baggage before you try to create a review of literature.

Everyone has baggage. You might not realize it, but you do. And I'm not talking about emotional baggage here. I mean, if you are male, it's going to be difficult to write reviews of a female author that aren't colored by your perspective. Culture, privilege, class, age and other perspectives can also dilute a review to the point where it's difficult to take seriously.

This might not sound like it makes a difference but I have all too often seen reviews by old, white, affluent men who belittle or dismiss books that were written by people different from them and which later won major awards (at which point the reviewer often changes their tune).

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