Literature Review Writing Guide
The aim of this guide is to help you with useful tips on how to write a literature review and
provide you with information on things you should and should not do.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review provides your reader with an account of what has been published on a
specific topic or subject by experts, scholars and researchers in the field/discipline. You might be
asked to write a literature review as a separate assignment (e.g. this assignment), but in most
cases it functions as a part of the introduction to an essay, research report or thesis.
When writing a literature review, your aim is to inform the reader about what knowledge and
ideas have been established on a topic or subject and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
The literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the
problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis).
Remember! It is NOT just a descriptive list of the resources available, or a set of summaries.
Consider These When Writing a Literature Review
• What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review aims
• What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory,
methodology, policy, quantitative research (e.g. interviews, observations), qualitative
research (e.g., studies, surveys, statistics)?
• What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g.,
journals, books, government documents)?
• What discipline am I working in (e.g. Public Health, Nursing, Kinesiology etc.)?
• Has my search for sources been wide enough to ensure that I have found all the relevant
• Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material?
• Is the number of sources I’ve used appropriate for the length of my paper (i.e. if your
literature review is part of a larger paper or assignment)?
• Have I critically analyzed the resources I found?
• How will I avoid just listing and summarizing resources? Do I assess them, discussing
strengths and weaknesses?
• Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?
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• Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and or useful?
FIRST, ASK YOUR PROFESSOR!
The format of a literature review may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to
assignment. However, a literature review must do these things:
• Be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are
• Synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
• Identify problematic areas or areas of controversy in the literature
• Formulate questions or issues that need further research
Remember! A literature review is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature
Try organizing the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including
relevant theories. You are not trying to list all the material published on a topic, but to synthesize
and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.
Things to Consider For Each Source
• Has the author formulated a problem/issue?
• Is the problem/issue clearly defined and is its significance (scope, severity, and relevance)
• Could the problem/issue have been approached more effectively and or from another
• What is the author’s research orientation (e.g., interpretive, critical science, combination)?
• What is the author’s theoretical framework (e.g., psychological, developmental, feminist)?
• What is the relationship between #4 and #5?
• Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the topic (i.e. does the author include a
literature review and or provide sources that take positions she/he does not agree with)?
• How accurate and valid are the measurements, statistics or data the author has provided?
• Is the analysis of the measurements, statistics or data accurate and relevant to the research
• Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis?
• How does the author structure the argument? Can you retrace the steps he/she takes and
analyze the flow of the argument to see if it progresses logically?
• In what ways does this piece contribute to our understanding of the topic, and in what
ways is it useful? What are the strengths and limitations?
• How does this book or article relate to my thesis or research question?
Synthesize Sources in a Literature Review
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Literature reviews synthesize large amounts of information and present it in a coherent,
organized fashion. In a literature review you will be combining material from several texts to
create a new text – your literature review.
You will use common points among the sources you have gathered to help you synthesize the
material. This will help ensure that your literature review is organized by subtopic, not by source.
This means various authors’ names can appear and reappear throughout the literature review, and
each paragraph will mention several different authors.
Sample Literature Review (peer reviewed article)
Hassan, L., & Shiu, E. (2015). The moderating role of national cultural values in smoking
cessation. Journal of Business Research, 68(10), 2173-2180.
Psychological ownership is an under researched concept in marketing and compulsive
consumption. Research in marketing treats psychological ownership as a uni-dimensional
construct yet the concept of psychological ownership is more complex. This research draws on
the psychological ownership dimensions of self-efficacy and self-accountability to examine how
these dimensions jointly explain smokers’ quit intentions. A separate contribution lies in
understanding the role of culture in smoking cessation. The authors use data across 25 European
countries to examine the moderating influence of cultural value dimensions
(autonomy/embeddedness, egalitarianism/hierarchy, harmony/mastery) on the relationship
between the psychological ownership dimensions and quit intentions. Findings from this research
show that psychological ownership plays a more important role in facilitating smoking cessation
for smokers in autonomy, egalitarian, and harmony cultures. Given that culture explains crosscountry
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Literature Review and Hypothesis Development
Pierce et al., 2001 ; Pierce et al., 2003 propose the concept and theory of psychological ownership in
organizations, with much subsequent research centered on organizational behavior (e.g., Avey, Avolio,
Crossley, & Luthans, 2009). Pierce et al. (2003, p. 86) define psychological ownership as “the state in which
individuals feel as though the target of ownership or a piece of that target is theirs (i.e., It is mine!)”. Perceiving
something as mine is powerful and important in shaping and controlling one’s thoughts and behaviors ( Pierce
et al., 2001). Psychological ownership applies to connections between individuals and tangible or intangible
targets (Dittmar, 1992). The target of psychological ownership is broad and can encompass physical objects
(such as an automobile, a building) and abstract concepts (such as an idea, a problem, a decision). With
psychological ownership, the target is felt as an extension of the self with individuals feeling obligated to
expend energy in caring for and attending to the needs of the target (Belk, 1988).
In consumer research, the target of psychological ownership mainly centers on possessions with a focus on
two overlapping areas. First, exploring the relationship between haptic cues and psychological ownership,
studies find that sensory feedback through touch increases psychological ownership (Peck et al., 2013 ; Peck
and Shu, 2009). The second major research area finds support that psychological ownership is one underlying
mechanism for the endowment effect. Specifically, the price consumers are willing to pay for a product is
significantly less than the price that the consumer will accept to forfeit the product they perceive to own
(Dommer and Swaminathan, 2013 ; Shu and Peck, 2011).
Research mostly treats the concept of psychological ownership as a uni-dimensional construct (e.g., Kamleitner
and Erki, 2013 ; Shu and Peck, 2011). However, support for a multi-dimensional view comes from Pierce et al.
(2003) in their discussions on facets of psychological ownership. Taking this discussion forward, Avey et al.
(2009) empirically evidence five underlying dimensions of psychological ownership (territoriality, self-efficacy,
accountability, sense of belongingness, and self-identity) in a worker performance context. According to Avey
et al. (2009), territoriality is a preventative or defensive form of psychological ownership whereby individuals
mark and protect the target of ownership as belonging exclusively to themselves in response to threats of
infringement from external entities. Self-efficacy is people’s belief in their ability to successfully complete tasks
and achieve goals (Bandura, 1977). This psychological ownership component relates to one’s need for
effectance and speaks to an individual’s sense of “I need to do this task, I can do it, and I therefore own the
responsibility for achieving success” (Avey et al., 2009, p. 177). Accountability relates to Pierce et al.’s (2003)
concept of stewardship, self-sacrifice, responsibility and self-accountability. In this way, feelings that the target
of ownership is an extension of the self will coexist with an expectation to hold one’s self as accountable for
the well-being and success or failure regarding the target. Belongingness relates more to the organizational
context where social and socio-emotional needs are met by having a place where workers belong to and can
call their own within their organization. Lastly, self-identity is the categorization of the self into a role and the
incorporation into the self of the meanings, significance and expectations associated with that role. When the
self is integrated with the target of psychological ownership, behavior addressing the needs of the target is
deemed as an expression of the self transforming the frame of reference from “what will I gain from this
effort” to “this effort is an expression of who I am” (Avey et al., 2009, p. 179). In the context of the current
research, the authors’ aim is in gaining a better understanding of key factors on persuading smokers to quit
through cross-national antismoking campaigns. Research (e.g., Durkin, Brennan, & Wakefield, 2012)
shows that past antismoking campaigns focus mainly on boosting smokers’ self-efficacy as well as
getting smokers to acknowledge and be accountable for the harm caused by smoking. Thus, the
current cross-country research takes a first step in examining the differential roles of two factors,
namely self-efficacy and self-accountability, as dimensions of psychological ownership in explaining
variance in quit intentions by smokers across Europe.
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