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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Writing in Criminal Justice: Writing a Literature Review

Development of a Literature Review

Development of a Literature Review

Keep some steps in mind when beginning your work on a literature review:

  1. What is my thesis? What is the central idea I am trying to prove to my reader?
  2. What materials should I look at? Remember a literature review is a focused look at a limited amount of material. You do not have to examine every article ever written on your topic.
  3. Do the materials I have chosen to write on really help to focus the reader to understand the topic I am writing about

Writing a Literature Review: Step by Step

Literature Reviews: An Overview

Tips for Writing a Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?


A literature review is an overview of literature published on a topic, issue, or theory. It can cover a wide variety of materials including but not limited to scholarly articles, books, dissertations, reports, conference proceedings, etc. The purpose of a literature review is to describe, summarize, and evaluate the works being examined for the review.

How you construct a literature review and the specific outline of it can vary depending on what your professor has laid out for you in your assignment. The review can be just a summary of sources on the subject you are writing about or it could be an examination of the material on your chosen topic. It can also be an analysis of previous research in an in-depth manner or just trace the development of a field of study over time. A good literature review should ultimately be a guide for its audience, giving them a solid idea about what extent and limits of the research has been done so far.

Structure of a Literature Review

Structure of a Literature Review


When writing a literature review, consider first what it is you want to write about. Your topic summarized in one sentence is your thesis. Next you should think about how you want to organize your material. What is the most important thing you want to get across in your presentation of resources?

The most basic organization of a literature review is to put it together like a general academic paper with an Introduction, Body, and Conclusion – a beginning where you lay out to the reader what you are doing, a middle where you discuss the literature in question, and an ending where you sum up what you have been trying to prove. Another way to organize your paper is by theme or method or chronology.

  • A paper organized by theme deals with sources that focus on a specific topic or issue. For example a review by theme may deal with police with one section on one police department and a second on a different police department. But all the sources ultimately deal with the same topic, in this case the police.
  • A review organized by method looks at the methods the original researcher used in writing the literature you are reviewing. A review by method may group literature such as case studies in one section and interviews in another.
  • And a chronological organization looks at the literature by when it was written. A chronological review would look at material in the form of a timeline such as debates on a subject that happened in one year followed by a debate on the same subject at a later date.

A third way to organize your paper is by author or philosophy.

  • A review organized by author usually focuses on prominent researchers in the field you are examining. For instance if you were writing about physics, you could group your articles by prominent physicists such as articles by Isaac Newton and his findings and materials by Albert Einstein and his findings.
  • A review organized by philosophy looks at the argument being made in the materials under examination. For instance if one group of articles is about capitalism and another group is about communism, you may want to group them by what the article is trying to prove than by who wrote it or when it was written.

Keep This in Mind

When you begin to work on your literature review, keep in mind the following ideas:

  • What question and/or problem are you trying to answer? What is the thesis you are trying to prove?
  • Are you being specific about your topic? Is it too broad? And if it is can you narrow it down?
  • What does the literature say about your topic? Is there agreement or disagreement on the subject?