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Writing a Literature Review


Phase 5: Organizing the Review

Tips on writing a literature review (in any subject).

Categorizing the Literature

When categorizing the writings in the review, the researcher might consider

  • the methodology employed;
  • the quality of the findings or conclusions;
  • the document’s major strengths and weaknesses;
  • any other pivotal information.

She might consider such questions as:

  • what beliefs are expressed?
  • Is there an ideological stance?
  • What is being described? Is it comprehensive or narrow?
  • Are the results generalizable?

Remember that you are relating other studies to your study. How do the studies in your lit. review relate to your thesis? How are the other studies related to each other?

Many Similar Studies?

If there are many similar studies, a strategy might be to discuss the most important ones and say that the results were confirmed in many other studies.

Still, to include only germane studies, the reviewer must usually examine many.

How to Organize the Lit. Review

There are numerous ways to organize the material in a lit. review. For example, one might organize the selected readings by

  • different theoretical approaches
  • specific concepts or issues
  • different methodologies employed
  • level of support or otherwise that they lend to one’s own hypothesis/theory.

Such methods are generally better than organizing chronologically or by author. The latter often result in a boring review or one lacking clarity or direction.

It is common to organize one’s lit. review thematically. For example, one might organize a review on standardized testing in schools according to the following themes or issues:


  • History of standardized tests
  • Different types of standardized tests
  • Rationale of standardized tests
  • Role of high stakes tests
  • Standardized tests and the law

Standardized Tests in Practice

  • Testing at elementary school
  • Testing at secondary school
  • Statistics

Critics and Proponents of Standardized Tests

  • Testing of students with disabilities
  • Testing of minority students
  • Testing of students from different social backgrounds
  • Gender differences in testing
  • Case for bias
  • Case against bias
  • Teachers’ perspectives
  • School administrators’ perspectives
  • Students’ perspectives