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Literature Reviews in the Social Sciences: Structure your literature review

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

The basic organization

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

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.

Social Sciences Librarian

Lonya Humphrey's picture
Lonya Humphrey
New York University Abu Dhabi
P.O. Box 129188
Saadiyat Island
Abu Dhabi, UAE
+971 2 628 4609