Skip to Main Content

GEOL 355: Structural Geology and Tectonics

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to a particular subject. It provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each source. Thus, the purpose of a literature review is to provide an overview of significant literature published on a particular topic. A literature review is not just a simple summary of the sources though - it should have an organizational pattern and a combination of both summary and synthesis.

Main Objectives of a Literature Review
  • Surveys the literature on a particular topic
  • Synthesizes the information in that literature into a summary
  • Critically analyzes the information gathered
  • Presents the literature in an organized way

What Should a Literature Review Include?

A literature review should include:

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
  • Division of the sources into categories (see below)
  • Explanation of how each source is similar to one another and how it varies from the others
  • Conclusions as to which sources are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

How is a Literature Review Organized?

A literature review must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section, the body of the review containing the discussion of sources, and a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.

  • 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. For this literature review, you will organize the body thematically (see below for additional information).
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing the literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?
Organizing the body

Create a thematic organizational method to focus this section:

  • Organize your sources around themes, theoretical concepts, and topics. Literature reviews organized thematically should have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.
  • The themes or topics should correspond to sections of the body of your manuscript:
    • General characteristics and distinctive features (geography, length, width, elevation, topography, cultural significance, resource importance, notable or notorious)
    • Plate tectonic setting
    • Major structural features and description of general style of deformation
    • Age and timing of formation of the major structural features in relation to plate tectonics 

How Much Time Does It Take to Write a Literature Review?

A literature review, particularly one of this length (15-20 pages), takes months to complete. To avoid leaving the assignment to the last minute (or the last few days) at the expense of the quality of your work, develop a timeline with specific milestones for each stage of the literature review process. These stages are:

  1. Planning: Identify the focus, type, and scope of the review you intend to write.
  2. Reading and research: Collect and read research on your topic. Select only those sources that are most relevant to your paper.
  3. Analyzing: Summarize, synthesize, critique, and compare your sources in order to assess the field of research as a whole.
  4. Drafting: Develop a thesis and decide how to organize your material.
  5. Revising: Revise and refine the structural, stylistic, and grammatical issues of your paper.
  6. Redrafting: The first draft is a coherent, but not perfect, document. Be prepared to redraft and revise multiple times throughout this process.
  7. Revising: Your final draft should be coherent, free of spelling and grammatical errors, complete with references and figures, and properly formatted.

If you want to write a high quality literature review, a timeline with specific milestones is essential, so set a due date for each stage of the process. Having a date planned and written down will help you stay on track for each stage and reduce feeling overwhelmed when writing.