Examples of Literature Reviews
It can often be useful to look at the quality work of others and learn by observing best practices. We have already covered different types of literature reviews and the tools that can help you write one, as well as how to achieve the right mental attitude and attunement to get you started writing your literature review. Although the previously shared knowledge and techniques can and will support your academic efforts, there is still room to share some direct advice about organizing and structuring your review. The aim of this post is to serve as guidance with these sorts of challenges.
To recap, in your literature review, you need to:
- Establish the significance of your chosen topic or field of study;
- critically evaluate what has already been done — i.e. review the relevant literature;
- and, identify a knowledge gap where your future study will make a contribution.
Examples of Different Literature Review Structures
Your literature review can be structured in different ways.
For instance, you can organize your material chronologically. You just need to be careful to provide a critical analysis of the studies you include; don’t just simply list them. The latter approach would be considered too descriptive for a thorough review.
Another approach is to organize the material by themes. You can list and describe different approaches, views and/or concepts and then coalesce them together in a meaningful way.
You can also choose to present your material by the development of ideas. For example, the exploration of one topic or theme can lead you to include another section to your review, building one idea of the next.
Alternatively, you could also use a combination of these structures and/or methods to help you develop your argument in a unique way.
Examples of Published Literature Reviews
As already mentioned, it can sometimes be beneficial to learn from sound examples. Here is a published literature review that talks about the correlation between the imaging characteristics of a hamstring injury and the time required before returning to activity:
The link above is a good example of a systematic literature review. Some of its features include:
- It describes the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the studies that were included.
- It names the databases that were searched.
- It presents a combination of keywords that were used (in a table format).
- It lists all the studies that were included (in a table format).
- It briefly summarizes the studies that were included (in a table format).
- It answers the research questions based on the information provided in the studies.
- It offers a discussion of the results.
The next literature review example is on the effect of virtual reality on postural and balance control in patients with a stroke:
This review includes:
- A flow diagram of study/literature selection, which makes the author’s process very transparent.
- A detailed table with the description of all selected studies (participants, intervention, outcome measure, etc).
- A discussion of the studies.
If you plan to undertake a meta-analysis — the gold standard for systematic reviews — you can also have a look at the research paper below exploring literature on cannabinoids for medical use:
This review looked at the benefits and adverse effects of cannabinoids. It, too, provides the reader with a flow chart of included studies and a table with the description of the studies. It groups the studies based on symptoms (e.g. anxiety, nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation) so it is a good example of a review that is structured according to themes.
Although these reviews used the format of a scientific article and already answered a research question, their structure and, particularly, the depth of the information contained within can help you design your own literature review section. Also, these examples of literature reviews can serve as a reminder that if you conduct a good literature review, your effort can lead to your first publication — and this potentially could happen before you have even started with your study!