Literature Review Instructions

This page describes the main writing assignment of this course. Students will work on it over the entire semester.

Students in this course will write a a substantive literature review on a topic related to psychology. That is, most of your research articles for this literature review should come from peer-reviewed psychology journals. It is also important that this literature review be unique. Thus, if you have written a similar style of paper for another class, you should not use the exact same topic here (this will also help you avoid the academic dishonest behavior turning in the same work for two different grades). The literature review must be at least 8 pages of text and include at least 10 references.

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Literature reviews do more than summarize an area of research.  They synthesize information and evaluate research in a particular area. Literature reviews are difficult and time consuming, but by the end of the semester you should have the tools you need to complete this endeavor. Below I provide additional information about these assignments.

 Writing the literature review

  • To begin the literature review, first chose a topic. Your topic should be current, well studied, and specific. Make sure it sufficiently narrow so that you can review the research on it thoroughly.
  • Find scholarly research articles on your topic (these must come from primary, scholarly sources only; most of your sources should be empirical peer-reviewed journal articles). Evaluate each article your find in terms of its currency. Decide if the publication is outdated (is it an important “classic” study or is it just old?) and if the publication meets the need of your topic and paper. Is it relevant? Does the article provide new information about your topic 
  • Students should use articles published in the last 5 to 10 years. Older papers should be avoided unless they are “classic” or “important” papers on the topic. “Classic” papers are those that seem to be cited by everyone else in the field or research area.

Keep in mind

Your literature review should

  • Place your study in the context of other work that has already been done in the field
  • Inform the reader about the main theories in the area or field
  • It may establish the need for the future research by identifying gaps in knowledge

Do’s and don’ts for your literature review

  • Do
    • Organize your paper before you begin writing
    • Provide strong transitions between the discussion of one idea and another (e.g., transitional statements help the reader follow your line of thought and create “flow” throughout the paper [see Mitchell, Jolley, & O’Shea, 2013, pp. 18-19])
    • Reference appropriately (please see Mitchell, Jolley, & O’Shea text)
    • Write well and see someone in the success center or smart thinking if you need help
  • Don’t
    • Simply paraphrase an existing literature review
    • Use more than one or two quotes in the entire paper
    • Rely heavily on secondary sources (use primary articles published in peer reviewed scholarly journals)
    • Include anecdotal information
    • Discuss each article separately as if writing an abstract on each

Course assignments: A number of assignments have been designed to help you review topics from previous courses and complete the scholarly papers.

Assignments to help you complete the literature view.

Week: assignment

1: APA assignment

2: Information literacy assignment (there are two of these assignments. First you’ll locate and list a lot of citations related to your topic and second, you’ll go through the initial list carefully and discard those that won’t work for your purposes). *

2: Plagiarism assignment*

2: Summarize an article*

3: Provide a final reference list

4: Write a literature review justification and outline

6: Turn in literature review draft for review (optional)

 *Each of these activities requires that students demonstrate competence or mastery before he or she may continue in the course. These activities help ensure that only those who are ready to complete the course are able to move forward. If a student fails to gain mastery on these assignments, he or she should seek tutoring, and spend more time on the course or considering dropping and retaking the course when he or she has more time to commit to study and practice.


Students who chose to plagiarize will earn a zero on their paper and risk failure in the course. The turn-it-in software where students will upload their paper will alert the instructor of any sentences or phrases that closely match published work. Remember, to avoid plagiarism you should ensure that you have written your report in your own words. Each sentence that you create should bear little to no resemblance to the reports you read. If you must quote text do so sparingly and be sure to enclose quotes in quotation marks (and cite page numbers). It is expected that students in this class have mastered the ability to write about psychology. Thus, plagiarism in any form will not be tolerated.  Instances of plagiarism will be documented, sent to the Dean of Students, and placed on student’s permanent record. I will contact you and ask that you acknowledge the receipt/sign a document regarding the instance of plagiarism. Students who plagiarize risk failure in the course.

Suggestions for success:

Write. Rest. Revise. Repeat. I recommend completing these assignments early and then letting them “rest” before you revise them. Two to three days after you complete a draft, read it, revise it and improve it. No one writes brilliantly on the first draft. Brilliant writing comes only after several revisions.

Read the Landrum text. This book is invaluable because it not only describes how to write research papers, it also describes how to build logical arguments. Critical thinking and reasoning are essential to write well in psychology.

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