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How to write your literature review

Getting the tone right

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You'll notice that literature reviews are written using a reasonably formal, 'academic' writing style. The academic style is used to make research easier for every one to understand - not everyone is familiar with English slang, cliches, and colloquialisms. It also allows the author to achieve a scholarly, objective and dispassionate tone, so readers (usually other academics) will take the research seriously.

A lot of the conventions used in academic writing are simply the rules of good writing: correct spelling, punctuation and grammar; sentences in a variety of lengths; correct use of paragraphs; appropriate vocabulary and so on. How comforting you find this, will depend on your skill as a writer!

Activity: Writing like a professional - 10 minutes

1. Re-read the Fraternity Membership and Binge Drinking literature review in the last activity.

2. Make notes in answer to the following questions:

  • Are there lots of quotations in the review, or is the literature mostly paraphrased and summarised?
  • Does the author write using the first person (In this study, I...), or the third person (This study uses...)?
  • Does he use contractions (don't, isn't)?
  • Does he use slang or colloquialisms (...students drink until they're legless and then throw-up everywhere), or is the language formal and objective?
  • When discussing other studies, it's easy to overuse the word says (In this important study, Smith (1991) says...). What alternative words does the author use?

Recommended Further Reading

Top tip...

Literature reviews published in your area will give you a good idea of the tone you should be aiming for, but if in doubt, ask your supervisor about the rules for writing in your subject.

We've helpfully added a list of literature review dos and do nots, which you can use to hit the right tone when you write your review.

Do...

Do not...

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