Writing a Literature Review for Publication

Writing a Literature Review for Publication

Writing a Literature Review for publication is a distinctly different process than writing a literature review for a thesis or dissertation. Dissertations often require a systematic or scoping review rather that a related review. There is also a difference between writing a literature review as a journal article versus writing a literature review as a part of an empirical research paper. This blog will focus on the related literature review as a framework for empirical research.

Identifying an Entry Point

For journals in the social sciences, authors are expected to write related literature reviews. Related literature reviews are succinct, contemporary, and theoretically consistent. They are organized around ideas and not researchers. Along with the theoretical/conceptual framework, the purpose of the related literature review is identify your “camp” within the scholarly field. For example, in education there are distinctly different sets of beliefs about the nature of learning. Researchers who believe that learning is primarily cognitive and individual rarely cite researchers who understand learning as social and cultural, and vice versa. What research you choose to cite will identify what conversation you are looking to enter. The related literature review has a specific lens and aims to identify the point where your research enters into the scholarly field.

Determining Your Stance

This entry point allows you to avoid stating what is obvious or widely known in the field and instead sets up the literature review as the beginning of an argument illustrating what you do and do not agree with in previously published literature. After identifying your point of entry into the conversation, you need to determine your stance in regards to the conversation you are entering. For example, are you agreeing with someone but arguing that they didn’t go far enough with their claims?  There are three main stances you can take. You can: support a previous argument, disagree with a previous argument, or claim that your argument has not previously been made. This will determine the “gap” in the literature that you are trying to address.

Writing the Review

Once you determine your entry point and stance, you can write the actual review. Related literature reviews are typically written using a traditional narrative structure. This means that they contain an introduction (an overview of how you will present your critique), three to six paragraphs focusing on different themes, one to two paragraphs of critical summary/discussion and a conclusion that clearly states the gap in the literature that the research will address. Depending on the journal, literature reviews may be one complete section of the research article or the review may be divided up under different thematic subheadings.

Getting to Know the Journal

Every journal tends to have specific sets of conversations that reoccur. While this may change slightly when editors change (and so it is also good to get a sense of who the editors and editorial board are and what they are interested in), similar kinds of topics, theoretical frameworks, etc. are often repeated. It is essential to read previously published articles in order to gauge the tone and expectations of the journal. Although literature reviews can differ based on the type of the review, the stance taken by the author, and norms of specific journals, all good literature reviews are original, perceptive, and analytical. 


Sandra S. Jenkins's picture Sandra S. Jenkins | February 10, 2016 2:22 pm MST


Nice points.  I like the point/counterpoint or the area not yet addressed approach!  Thank you!!!

Sandra Jenkins

Marcia Griffiths-Prince's picture Marcia Griffiths-Prince | February 11, 2016 5:19 pm MST


Thank you for pointing out the importance of getting to know the editors and the editorial board to determine the types of conversations they are having.

Marcia Griffiths-Prince

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Journal of Leadership Studies-Symposium Piece-Relational Leadership: Perspectives of Key Constructs on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity in Higher Education

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