Elements of a review paper
This guide explains each section of a review paper and gives specific information about what should be included in each.
On the title page include the title, your name, and the date. Your instructor may have additional requirements (such as the course number, etc.) so be sure to follow the guidelines on the assignment sheet. Professional journals may also have more specific requirements for the title page.
An abstract is a brief summary of your review. The abstract should include only the main points of your review. Think of the abstract as a chance for the reader to preview your paper and decide if they want to read on for the details.
The introduction of your review should accomplish three things:
- Introduce your topic
- It may sound redundant to "introduce" your topic in the introduction, but often times writer's fail to do so. Let the reader in on background information specific to the topic, define terms that may be unfamiliar to them, explain the scope of the discussion, and your purpose for writing the review.
- State your topic's relevance
- Think of your review paper as a statement in the larger conversation of your academic community. Your review is your way of entering into that conversation and it is important to briefly address why your review is relevant to the discussion. You may feel the relevance is obvious because you are so familiar with the topic, but your readers have not yet established that familiarity.
- Reveal your thesis to the reader
- The thesis is the main idea that you want to get across to your reader. your thesis should be a clear statement of what you intend to prove or illustrate by your review. By revealing your thesis in the introduction the reader knows what to expect in the rest of the paper.
The discussion section is the body of your paper. The discussion section contains information that develops and supports your thesis. While there is no particular form that a discussion section must take there are several considerations that a writer must follow when building a discussion.
- Don't summarize!
- A review paper is not simply a summary of literature you have reviewed. Be careful not to leave out your own analysis of the ideas presented in the literature. Synthesize the material from all the works—what are the connections you see, or the connections you are trying to illustrate, among your readings.
- Analyze, Synthesize, Interpret.
A review paper is not a pure summary of the information you read for your review. You are required to analyze, synthesize, and interpret the information you read in some meaningful way. It is not enough to simply present the material you have found, you must go beyond that and explain its relevance and significance to the topic at hand. Establish a clear thesis from the onset of your writing and examine which pieces of your reading help you in developing and supporting the ideas in your thesis.
- Stay focused.
- Keep your discussion focused on your topic and more importantly your thesis. Don't let tangents or extraneous material get in the way of a concise, coherent discussion. A well focused paper is crucial in getting your message across to your reader.
- Organize your points.
- Keeping your points organized makes it easier for the reader to follow along and make sense of your review. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that relates back to your thesis. The headings used for this guide give you some idea of how to organize the overall paper, but as far as the discussion section goes use meaningful subheadings that relate to your content to organize your points.
- Relate the discussion to your thesis.
- Your thesis should illustrate your objectives in writing the review and your discussion should serve to accomplish your objectives. Make sure your keep your discussion related to the thesis in order to meet your objectives. If you find that your discussion does not relate so much to your thesis, don't panic, you might want to revise your thesis instead of reworking the discussion.
Because the conclusions section often gets left for last it is often the weakest part of a student review paper. It is as crucial a part of the paper as any and should be treated as such.
A good conclusion should illustrate the key connections between your major points and your thesis as well as they key connections between your thesis and the broader discussion—what is the significance of your paper in a larger context? Make some conclusions—where have you arrived as a result of writing this paper?
Be careful not to present any new information in the conclusion section.
Here you report all the works you have cited in your paper. The format for a references page varies by discipline as does how you should cite your references within the paper.