Writing the Literature Review Section of a Research Grounded Paper
Timothy G. Weih, Ph.D.
University of Northern Iowa, USA
February 2015


Research grounded papers in education are typically divided into main sections (sometimes these are also called chapters) that are further divided into subsections. Each main section usually begins on a new page. In the paper, these sections are typically titled the Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Results, Discussion, and References. The main sections are further divided (with the exception of the Reference section) into subsections that help the reader to follow sequential information contained within each main section. The structure of the paper represents sequential steps of how everything was conducted for the research study or project. The writing is technical, formal, or informational writing in which you are seeking to explain your topic and what you did for the sake of the reader. Most technical papers in education follow the writing style and format of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Instructional Directions

The literature review provides the foundational research grounding for the statements that you write in the Introduction, the methodological procedures that you describe in your Method section, and the connections back to the research that is included in the Discussion section. It is the research grounding of your whole paper.

Research grounded papers include the reporting of past research findings that are directly related to the main topic and subtopics of the paper.

Format of the Paper

The format of the paper is typically size 12, Times New Roman font, with 1.5 inch left margin, and all the others an inch. This will allow room for binding the completed paper if that is needed. The writing throughout the entire paper should all be evenly double-spaced text, and follow APA for all headings within the paper.

What to Include in the Literature Review

Study your main topic and think about all of the possible subtopics that could be linked to it. Search using educational data bases for sources, e.g., articles, research reports, theses, and dissertations that are directly related to the topic and subtopics. Look for the primary sources, i.e., the ones in which the authors have done the actual research and discuss their results or findings. Print these out making sure to also include the all document source identifications: authors, date, title, source publication, digital object indicator (if there is one, this is indicated with a prefix of doi), and the keywords or document descriptors. All of this identifying information is needed for writing the document citation, reference, and the keywords or descriptors are helpful for searching for more related document sources, and, in addition, for revising your topic and subtopics.

Print the document sources, organize them by subtopic, and study them for the main information, i.e., who, did what, with whom, and found what, and suggested what. Record, mark, or highlight this information so that you can easily find it back again during your writing.

Expect to revise your topic and subtopics as you discover and think more about them. This discovery process can be very enlightening, but also very frustrating as you try to narrow the document sources down to only the ones that speak directly to your topic and subtopics.

This will be very challenging and will take some time. Try to get as many document sources as you possibly can that seem to be directly related to your topic and subtopics.
It is very important to be narrow and only write about the ones that are matched to your topic.

Writing Tips

Label the heading of this section Literature Review following APA for headings. Begin with an introductory paragraph (but not labeled as such) explaining to the reader how this section of the paper is organized. This beginning paragraph is usually written after the Literature Review section has been written.

Divide the Literature Review section into your subtopics with each one labeled with a heading.

Each starting paragraph of a subtopic begins with a topic sentence that states the main concepts, ideas, or findings that you discovered from the connecting document sources that you are going to write about within the paragraph. There are usually several paragraphs for each subtopic. Begin by integrating within each paragraph by reporting on past research that give evidence to the concepts, ideas, or findings stated in the topic sentence. Summarize the main findings along with the document sources that reported on the findings and avoid unnecessary detail. As soon as you present information related to the main idea, write a citation, do not always wait until you get to the end of the sentence. Write citations whenever you introduce new information to the reader, you must cite the source document of that information, if you continue to discuss an author's work, recite the author no later than three to six sentences from the first citation (see APA).

Within each subtopic, after you have summarized the findings of several document sources, write specifically about one key research study that most directly connects to the subtopic that you are writing about.

Write with an objective, non evaluative style, e.g., do not express your personal opinions, biases, or interpretations of the past research findings, and avoid value words, e.g., best, better, and so on.

Avoid the use of jargon buzz words, overuse of professional terminology, poetic devices, or slang. Write using "newspaper language," meaning language that an eighth grader would understand.

• Use simple sentences most of the time, i.e., avoid compound and complex sentence structure.

• Write past tense.

• Avoid using quotations and numbered lists.

• Write using "newspaper language" meaning, use language that an eighth grader would understand.

• Use as few trade terms as possible, meaning words that only professional educators would know, and if you have to use a trade term, do so in an appositive.

• Use active rather than passive voice, and avoid using: I, me, we, you, our- as much as possible (see APA for Passive Voice).

• Do not use "this author" or refer to yourself in third person.

• Make sure you are writing in an expository style, this is not a personal narrative.

Try (not always possible) to eliminate any anthropomorphism, e.g., research cannot tell or report, neither can articles or books say anything, only researchers and authors tell, report, write, and say.

When you are done writing the Literature Review section, write all the references for all the citations into a Reference section. It helps to have this as a separate page for now, so that you can easily move from the main document to the Reference page on your computer. Once your paper is finished, the Reference section can be pasted in. A closing paragraph is usually not included in the Literature Review section.

About Author / Additional Info:
Timothy G. Weih is an associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA, and teaches qualitative research methodology.