The aim of a literature essay or review is to summarize and appraise works on a specific topic written by prominent researchers and scholars. Students may have to do this kind of investigation as a separate task, for example, in the form of annotated bibliography or as a part of a more significant project, for instance, an essay, research paper or thesis. This paper is aimed not at describing or summarizing a problem but rather at informing the reader about the achievements and discoveries, which have been made on the topic under consideration, and provide the appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses. The whole idea of the review depends on a guiding concept, which could be your argumentative thesis, the objective of the research, or the nature of the question studied.
Apart from deepening your knowledge about certain subject, writing essays about literature in the form of review allows you to master and demonstrate your skills at:
- collecting information (the ability to seek necessary data efficiently, use various search methods, distinguish worthy books and articles from invaluable ones);
- assessing critically (the ability to analyze information, recognize credible and impartial works).
An essay on literature must:
- be based on research or thesis question you are working on;
- recap the results and contain a summary of what was studied and what was not;
- establish inconsistencies and controversies in the literature;
- specify the question that requires further studying.
In order to make your literature essay comprehensive, make sure to answer the following questions for yourself:
- What is a thesis/issue/question that the review will assist me to clarify?
- What exactly am I interested in? Am I seeking for methodologies? Theories? Do I need qualitative research (e.g. the one aimed at studies) or quantitative research (e.g. the one assessing the efficiency of something)?
- What is the review’s scope? You have to be especially attentive answering this question since, unlike simple drama essay or poetry essay, the scopes of which are limited by a literary work analyzed, it is you who set the research boundaries in case this type of paper is required.
- What sources will I use (books, journals, reports, publications in popular media)? What is my field of expertise (psychology, chemistry, criminology, etc.)?
- How well did I gather information? Did I examine enough sources? Was I narrow enough in my searches? Was all impertinent data excluded? Is the number of considered sources sufficient?
- Was I critical and objective when analyzing the material? Did I evaluate the concepts and hypotheses instead of simply summarizing and listing them? Did I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the papers under consideration?
- Have I addressed and cited the studies that have a viewpoint opposing to mine?
- Will the analyzed literature seem appropriate as well as helpful for the reader?
Similarly to writing a poetry analysis essay, apart from the content, you have to pay much attention to the text of the publication and approaches adopted for its creation. Consider every work you choose to include in the review:
- Has the author determined a problem? Clearly? Is its relevance/significance/scope formulated?
- Is there any other approach that could have been more effective in studying the issue?
- What was the author oriented at (e.g., the critical science, interpretation, the combination of both)?
- What theoretical framework has the author adopted (e.g., feminist, psychological, developmental)?
- How are the theoretical and research perspectives connected?
- Did the author review the relevant literature? Are opposing opinions discussed?
- Are basic study components (e.g., intervention, population, outcome) included in the paper? Are the measurements properly done and valid? Does data analysis correspond to the research issue? Are the conclusions drawn from the data analysis?
- In the literature reviewed that comes from popular media, does the writer provide one-sided illustrations/examples or appeal to the readers’ emotions? Do the tone and language seem rhetoric? Does the author reason or simply discuss his/her already established opinion?
- Is the argument well structured? Can it be deconstructed? Does it have logical breakdowns, for example, in representing cause and effect connection?
- How does the book or article contribute to deeper understanding of the subject under consideration? How can the information be applied? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book or article?
- How is the book or article relevant to the question studied?