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Organizing your literature review

More Q&A – and remember, you are always free to drop me your questions as well, and I’ll do my very best to either send you a personal mail with my thoughts, or turn it into a Q&A post.

A reader sent me the following question:


I’m writing my first literature review for an honors paper and I need so help clarifying a issue. Let’s say most studies looked at A and C, but in my study I want to look at what will happen if we look at B.

Now apart from sketching the background of the are field you are researching etc. they say you should also show and talk about where your research (B) fits into the picture and what you will be looking at.

Where in your literature review do you put this in, in its own section or try to work it into various other sections? Do you talk in future tense or how does one go about this?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. 

Thank you

My research fell in a similar situation. In my case, “A” would have been one-way shear, or beam shear, and “C” would have been punching shear or two-way shear. “B” then is my research on shear in slabs, a transition zone between A and C. I’m assuming your work has some aspects in common with A and C.

I would discuss A and C separately first, and not mix my own thoughts and plans with what is currently known. Then, I would put a next section that can be a “discussion”. You can look at the similarities and differences between A and C and explain how B fits in there. Then, finally, I would add an “outlook” or “future research” section in which you outline your plans for researching B based on what you now know about A and C.

As for the tense: it depends. Some people write their literature review in past tense, and some in present tense. I personally prefer present tense, and would also write the “future research” part in present tense (mostly). You can introduce this part by saying: “Given XXX (= what we learned in the previous sections), the focus of the research will be on the following elements:” and from there you can list which elements you are planning to study and how you would study these.

What do you think, readers? How did you organize your literature review? Let us know in the comments below!

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