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How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography

What is a Literature Review?

Literature Review - from The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period. It usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates.

Organizing a Literature Review

There is not one "standard" for literature reviews but they should include the following:

  • Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
  • Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?

Organizing your literature review:

  • Chronological: If your review follows the chronological method, you write about your materials according to when they were published. The oldest date is first and the most recent publication date is last.
  • By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend.
  • By trend: A better way to organize sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period.
  • Thematic: Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as "evil" in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
  • Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the "methods" of the researcher or writer. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

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Things to Remember

Be Selective

Summarize and Synthesize

Keep Your Own Voice

Use Caution When Paraphrasing

Revise, Revise, Revise

Source: Literature Reviews - The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill

Things to Clarify

Items to clarify if not in assignment:

  • How many sources should be included?
  • What types of sources should be included? (scholarly articles, books, websites, etc.)
  • Should information be reviewed by a common theme or issue?
  • Should subheadings and background information be provided? (i.e. definitions and/or a history?)
  • Should the review be in chronological or publication order?