A literature review is an exhaustive discussion of the research previously done in a given subject area. It is an organized collection of published research about a topic. Literature reviews are conducted in order to provide a solid background of the topic, examine what areas of research exist, and find new routes of research. While it may be a summary of the material, usually the literature review shuffles information around to shed new light on research.
The first step in conducting a literature review is to choose a topic. Your topic should be narrow enough to find specific sources. Writing a purpose statement will help you focus your search. Next, divide your topic into key themes and ideas; those will provide the framework for the body of your literature review and keep your search for sources organized. Finding and evaluating sources will take up most of your time. Read the abstracts of the studies carefully, and only continue to read the article if the abstract proves useful. Here are some research questions to consider as you read: What were the authors trying to discover? What were the methodologies used? How accurate and valid are the measurements? What further questions or research do the results call for? How does the author structure the argument? How does this article specifically relate to my topic?
When writing your literature review, you should have three main parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. Your literature review should not be a list of summaries of articles, one after another. Instead, it should evaluate the key themes or ideas pertaining to your topics. For example, if you are writing about schizophrenia, you may want to examine causes, treatments, and comorbidity. Within each of these key ideas, you would examine other topics; under causes, you may explore genetic and environmental factors.
When writing, you should use evidence from your sources (and be sure to cite them) but use quotations sparingly. Quotations are useful to place emphasis on an idea or if what the original author said is unable to be paraphrased. The information you include should relate to the main focus of the review or one of the themes. Finally, be sure to cite your sources, and include the database you found them in. If for some reason you need to access them again, you will be able to without too much difficulty.