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Literature Reviews in the Social Sciences

A guide on conducting & writing literature reviews for students in the Social Sciences.

The basic organization

Introduction:  layout the general structure of your lit review & how it will be organized

Body:  The body needs to be well-organized (see box below)

Conclusion:  Sum up the 'state of the literature'.  Expose what is lacking and how your research can contribute.  How will you move the conversation forward?

Structuring the body

There are a couple different ways to structure the body of your literature review.  Here are some ideas:

  • Thematic:  organize by themes or sub-topics within your general topic
  • Methodological:  by different methodologies or approaches to the subject
  • Argumentative:  organize by the different arguments surrounding and composing your topic
  • Theoretical:  organize by the different theories that have been used to explain a topic

Things to keep in mind...

  • Use your sources to support your argument and make a point, but don't forget to keep your own voice.  This is your research paper and your argument.  
  • That said, it's also important to see how your sources play off of and are in conversation with each other.  
  • Don't take what the authors say at face value--this is your opportunity to be critical of their research design & conclusions.
  • Don't rely too much on secondary sources--make sure to include primary research and data when appropriate.