Term Paper Writing Guide: Conducting a literary Research

Many term paper assignments include a requirement to conduct a literature review of the research already available on the topic. If you’ve never done this before, it may be a bit intimidating. After all, literature reviews often have strict rules and guidelines which must be followed to the letter in order to ensure a good score on your paper. However, this strictness itself is actually a good thing. While you may be unfamiliar with the process, literature reviews are very straightforward assignments and so long as you follow some simple rules you’ll be through it in no time.

Understanding Literature Reviews

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to have a firm understanding of what precisely a literature review entails. It isn’t entirely unlike a traditional research paper, in that you will be gathering information from other sources and compiling it. However, the literature review portion of your term paper isn’t about proving or disproving your thesis statement. Instead, you’re providing your reader with a basic understanding of the research which has already taken place on your topic. The literature review is valuable for explaining why you chose your thesis. It’s also intended to put your thoughts into a larger context for the audience.

What sources should be used?

The sources you’ll use to create your literature review will depend almost entirely upon your instructor’s requirements. He or she is likely to specify a minimum number of sources and their types. It’s a good idea to compile a list of your sources ahead of time and consult with your instructor or a teaching assistant regarding their suitability before you begin. Typically, literature reviews should include only peer reviewed sources from reputable publications. There may also be certain landmark studies which your professor specifically feels should be included, depending upon your topic. When in doubt, always ask.


Discuss one source at a time in the body of your literature review. You may decide what order to discuss your sources based on any of several different factors, including the scope of the study in question, chronological order, the type of study, or the publication in which it was featured. You can also identify trends or patterns amongst your sources and organize them accordingly. Any of these can be valid choices; choose the one that makes the most sense in relation to your particular research topic.