Notes on Literature Surveys
A literature survey is a piece of discursive prose, not a list
summarizing one piece of literature after another. It's usually a bad sign to see
every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organize the
literature survey into sections that present themes or identify trends,
relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to
synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or
A literature survey must do these things:
- Be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research
question you are developing
- Synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
- Identify areas of controversy in the literature
- Formulate questions that need further research
University of Colorado.]
A literature survey, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas,
sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that
you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them,
one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider
instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or
different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do
they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory?
Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick themes to
focus the organization of your survey.
Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]
Use sentences like, "Simpson suggests that the universe may in fact be doughnut
shaped . Others agree with this possibility, including Hawking . Syzlak and
Gumble apparently were the first to publish such a claim , but their research is
Refer to the papers in a clear and unambiguous way, such as "Smith, et al. found
that ... ." Avoid saying "the authors", since it is not clear who you mean. Do you mean
the authors of the last paper referenced, or are you talking about yourself? The same
thing applies to "paper"; "this paper" could mean the one that you wrote.
Avoid to always begin a paragraph with a person's name. Use conjunctions such as
"whereas, "however", similarly".