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Introduction to Literature: What? Why? How?

When is the last time you read a book or a story simply because it interested you? If you were to classify that book, would you call it fiction or literature? This is an interesting separation, with many possible reasons for it. One is that “fiction” and “literature” are regarded as quite different things. “Fiction,” for example, is what people read for enjoyment. “Literature” is what they read for school. Or “fiction” is what living people write and is about the present. “Literature” was written by people (often white males) who have since died and is about times and places that have nothing to do with us. Or “fiction” offers everyday pleasures, but “literature” is to be honored and respected, even though it is boring. Of course, when we put anything on a pedestal, we remove it from everyday life, so the corollary is that literature is to be honored and respected, but it is not to be read, certainly not by any normal person with normal interests.

Sadly, it is the guardians of literature, that is, of the classics, who have done so much to take the life out of literature, to put it on a pedestal and thereby to make it an irrelevant aspect of American life. People study literature because they love literature. They certainly don’t do it for the money. But what happens too often, especially in colleges, is that teachers forget what it was that first interested them in the study of literature. They forget the joy that they first felt (and perhaps still feel) as they read a new novel or a poem or as they reread a work and saw something new in it. Instead, they erect formidable walls around these literary works, giving the impression that the only access to a work is through deep learning and years of study. Such study is clearly important for scholars, but this kind of scholarship is not the only way, or even necessarily the best way, for most people to approach literature. Instead it makes the literature seem inaccessible. It makes the literature seem like the province of scholars. “Oh, you have to be smart to read that,” as though Shakespeare or Dickens or Woolf wrote only for English teachers, not for general readers.

What is Literature?

In short, literature evokes imaginative worlds through the conscious arrangement of words that tell a story. These stories are told through different genres, or types of literature, like novels, short stories, poetry, drama, and the essay. Each genre is associated with certain conventions. In this course, we will study poetry, short fiction, and drama (in the form of movies).

Some Misconceptions about Literature

Of course, there are a number of misconceptions about literature that have to be gotten out of the way before anyone can enjoy it. One misconception is that literature is full of  hidden meanings . There are certainly occasional works that contain hidden meanings. The biblical book of  Revelation , for example, was written in a kind of code, using images that had specific meanings for its early audience but that we can only recover with a great deal of difficulty. Most literary works, however, are not at all like that. Perhaps an analogy will illustrate this point. When I take my car to my mechanic because something is not working properly, he opens the hood and we both stand there looking at the engine. But after we have looked for a few minutes, he is likely to have seen what the problem is, while I could look for hours and never see it. We are looking at the same thing. The problem is not hidden, nor is it in some secret code. It is right there in the open, accessible to anyone who knows how to “read” it, which my mechanic does and I do not. He has been taught how to “read” automobile engines and he has practiced “reading” them. He is a good “close reader,” which is why I continue to take my car to him.

The same thing is true for readers of literature. Generally authors want to communicate with their readers, so they are not likely to hide or disguise what they are saying, but reading literature also requires some training and some practice. Good writers use language very carefully, and readers must learn how to be sensitive to that language, just as the mechanic must learn to be sensitive to the appearances and sounds of the engine. Everything that the writer wants to say, and much that the writer may not be aware of, is there in the words. We simply have to learn how to read them.

Another popular misconception is that a literary work has a  single “meaning”  (and that only English teachers know how to find that meaning). There is an easy way to dispel this misconception. Just go to a college library and find the section that holds books on Shakespeare. Choose one play,  Hamlet , for example, and see how many books there are about it, all by scholars who are educated, perceptive readers. Can it be the case that one of these books is correct and all the others are mistaken? And if the correct one has already been written, why would anyone need to write another book about the play? The answer is this:

Key Takeaways

There is no single correct way to read any piece of literature. 

Again, let me use an analogy to illustrate this point. Suppose that everyone at a meeting were asked to describe a person who was standing in the middle of the room. Imagine how many different descriptions there would be, depending on where the viewer sat in relation to the person. For example, an optometrist in the crowd might focus on the person’s glasses; a hair stylist might focus on the person’s haircut; someone who sells clothing might focus on the style of dress; a podiatrist might focus on the person’s feet. Would any of these descriptions be incorrect? Not necessarily, but they would be determined by the viewers’ perspectives. They might also be determined by such factors as the viewers’ ages, genders, or ability to move around the person being viewed, or by their previous acquaintance with the subject. So whose descriptions would be correct? Conceivably all of them, and if we put all of these correct descriptions together, we would be closer to having a full description of the person.

This is most emphatically NOT to say, however, that all descriptions are correct simply because each person is entitled to his or her opinion

If the podiatrist is of the opinion that the person is five feet, nine inches tall, the podiatrist could be mistaken. And even if the podiatrist actually measures the person, the measurement could be mistaken. Everyone who describes this person, therefore, must offer not only an opinion but also a basis for that opinion. “My feeling is that this person is a teacher” is not enough. “My feeling is that this person is a teacher because the person’s clothing is covered with chalk dust and because the person is carrying a stack of papers that look like they need grading” is far better, though even that statement might be mistaken.

So it is with literature. As we read, as we try to understand and interpret, we must deal with the text that is in front of us ; but we must also recognize (1) that language is slippery and (2) that each of us individually deals with it from a different set of perspectives. Not all of these perspectives are necessarily legitimate, and it is always possible that we might misread or misinterpret what we see. Furthermore, it is possible that contradictory readings of a single work will both be legitimate, because literary works can be as complex and multi-faceted as human beings. It is vital, therefore, that in reading literature we abandon both the idea that any individual’s reading of a work is the “correct” one and the idea that there is one simple way to read any work. Our interpretations may, and probably should, change according to the way we approach the work. If we read The Chronicles of Narnia as teenagers, then in middle age, and then in old age, we might be said to have read three different books. Thus, multiple interpretations, even contradictory interpretations, can work together to give us a fuller and possibly more interesting understanding of a work.

Why Reading Literature is Important

Reading literature can teach us new ways to read, think, imagine, feel, and make sense of our own experiences. Literature forces readers to confront the complexities of the world, to confront what it means to be a human being in this difficult and uncertain world, to confront other people who may be unlike them, and ultimately to confront themselves.

The relationship between the reader and the world of a work of literature is complex and fascinating. Frequently when we read a work, we become so involved in it that we may feel that we have become part of it. “I was really into that movie,” we might say, and in one sense that statement can be accurate. But in another sense it is clearly inaccurate, for actually we do not enter the movie or the story as IT enters US; the words enter our eyes in the form of squiggles on a page which are transformed into words, sentences, paragraphs, and meaningful concepts in our brains, in our imaginations, where scenes and characters are given “a local habitation and a name.” Thus, when we “get into” a book, we are actually “getting into” our own mental conceptions that have been produced by the book, which, incidentally, explains why so often readers are dissatisfied with cinematic or television adaptations of literary works.

In fact, though it may seem a trite thing to say, writers are close observers of the world who are capable of communicating their visions, and the more perspectives we have to draw on, the better able we should be to make sense of our lives. In these terms, it makes no difference whether we are reading a Homeric epic poem like The Odysse y, a twelfth-century Japanese novel like  The Tale of Genji , or a Victorian novel by Dickens, or even, in a sense, watching someone’s TikTok video (a video or movie is also a kind of text that can be “read” or analyzed for multiple meanings). The more different perspectives we get, the better. And it must be emphasized that we read such works not only to be well-rounded (whatever that means) or to be “educated” or for antiquarian interest. We read them because they have something to do with us, with our lives. Whatever culture produced them, whatever the gender or race or religion of their authors, they relate to us as human beings; and all of us can use as many insights into being human as we can get. Reading is itself a kind of experience, and while we may not have the time or the opportunity or  or physical possibility  to experience certain things in the world, we can experience them through reading. So literature allows us to broaden our experiences.

Reading also forces us to focus our thoughts. The world around us is so full of stimuli that we are easily distracted. Unless we are involved in a crisis that demands our full attention, we flit from subject to subject. But when we read a book, even a book that has a large number of characters and covers many years, the story and the writing help us to focus, to think about what they show us in a concentrated manner. When I hold a book, I often feel that I have in my hand another world that I can enter and that will help me to understand the everyday world that I inhabit.

Literature invites us to  meet interesting characters and to visit interesting places, to use our imagination and to think about things that might otherwise escape our notice, to see the world from perspectives that we would otherwise not have.

Watch this video for a discussion of why reading fiction matters.

How to Read Literature: The Basics

  • Read with a pen in hand! Yes, even if you’re reading an electronic text, in which case you may want to open a new document in which you can take notes. Jot down questions, highlight things you find significant, mark confusing passages, look up unfamiliar words/references, and record first impressions.
  • Think critically to form a response. Here are some things to be aware of and look for in the story that may help you form an idea of meaning.
  • Repetitions . You probably know from watching movies that if something is repeated, that means something. Stories are similar—if something occurs more than once, the story is calling attention to it, so notice it and consider why it is repeated. The repeated element can be a word or a phrase, an action, even a piece of clothing or gear.
  • Not Quite Right : If something that happens that seems Not Quite Right to you, that may also have some particular meaning. So, for example, if a violent act is committed against someone who’s done nothing wrong, that is unusual, unexpected, that is, Not Quite Right. And therefore, that act means something.
  • Address your own biases and compare your own experiences with those expressed in the piece.
  • Test your positions and thoughts about the piece with what others think (we’ll do some of this in class discussions).

While you will have your own individual connection to a piece based on your life experiences, interpreting literature is not a willy-nilly process. Each piece of writing has purpose, usually more than one purpose–you, as the reader, are meant to uncover purpose in the text. As the speaker notes in  the video you watched about how to read literature, you, as a reader, also have a role to play. Sometimes you may see something in the text that speaks to you; whether or not the author intended that piece to be there, it still matters to you.

For example, I’ve had a student who had life experiences that she was reminded of when reading “Chonguita, the Monkey Bride” and another student whose experience was mirrored in part of “The Frog King or Iron Heinrich.” I encourage you to honor these perceptions if they occur to you and possibly even to use them in your writing assignments. I can suggest ways to do this if you’re interested.

But remember that when we write about literature, our observations must also be supported by the text itself. Make sure you aren’t reading into the text something that isn’t there. Value the text for what is and appreciate the experience it provides, all while you attempt to create a connection with your experiences.

Attributions:

  • Content written by Dr. Karen Palmer and licensed  CC BY NC SA .
  • Content adapted from  Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity  by Theodore L. Steinberg and licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Worry Free Writer  by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Introduction to Literature Copyright © by Judy Young is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to write a literature review introduction (+ examples)

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The introduction to a literature review serves as your reader’s guide through your academic work and thought process. Explore the significance of literature review introductions in review papers, academic papers, essays, theses, and dissertations. We delve into the purpose and necessity of these introductions, explore the essential components of literature review introductions, and provide step-by-step guidance on how to craft your own, along with examples.

Why you need an introduction for a literature review

When you need an introduction for a literature review, what to include in a literature review introduction, examples of literature review introductions, steps to write your own literature review introduction.

A literature review is a comprehensive examination of the international academic literature concerning a particular topic. It involves summarizing published works, theories, and concepts while also highlighting gaps and offering critical reflections.

In academic writing , the introduction for a literature review is an indispensable component. Effective academic writing requires proper paragraph structuring to guide your reader through your argumentation. This includes providing an introduction to your literature review.

It is imperative to remember that you should never start sharing your findings abruptly. Even if there isn’t a dedicated introduction section .

Instead, you should always offer some form of introduction to orient the reader and clarify what they can expect.

There are three main scenarios in which you need an introduction for a literature review:

  • Academic literature review papers: When your literature review constitutes the entirety of an academic review paper, a more substantial introduction is necessary. This introduction should resemble the standard introduction found in regular academic papers.
  • Literature review section in an academic paper or essay: While this section tends to be brief, it’s important to precede the detailed literature review with a few introductory sentences. This helps orient the reader before delving into the literature itself.
  • Literature review chapter or section in your thesis/dissertation: Every thesis and dissertation includes a literature review component, which also requires a concise introduction to set the stage for the subsequent review.

You may also like: How to write a fantastic thesis introduction (+15 examples)

It is crucial to customize the content and depth of your literature review introduction according to the specific format of your academic work.

In practical terms, this implies, for instance, that the introduction in an academic literature review paper, especially one derived from a systematic literature review , is quite comprehensive. Particularly compared to the rather brief one or two introductory sentences that are often found at the beginning of a literature review section in a standard academic paper. The introduction to the literature review chapter in a thesis or dissertation again adheres to different standards.

Here’s a structured breakdown based on length and the necessary information:

Academic literature review paper

The introduction of an academic literature review paper, which does not rely on empirical data, often necessitates a more extensive introduction than the brief literature review introductions typically found in empirical papers. It should encompass:

  • The research problem: Clearly articulate the problem or question that your literature review aims to address.
  • The research gap: Highlight the existing gaps, limitations, or unresolved aspects within the current body of literature related to the research problem.
  • The research relevance: Explain why the chosen research problem and its subsequent investigation through a literature review are significant and relevant in your academic field.
  • The literature review method: If applicable, describe the methodology employed in your literature review, especially if it is a systematic review or follows a specific research framework.
  • The main findings or insights of the literature review: Summarize the key discoveries, insights, or trends that have emerged from your comprehensive review of the literature.
  • The main argument of the literature review: Conclude the introduction by outlining the primary argument or statement that your literature review will substantiate, linking it to the research problem and relevance you’ve established.
  • Preview of the literature review’s structure: Offer a glimpse into the organization of the literature review paper, acting as a guide for the reader. This overview outlines the subsequent sections of the paper and provides an understanding of what to anticipate.

By addressing these elements, your introduction will provide a clear and structured overview of what readers can expect in your literature review paper.

Regular literature review section in an academic article or essay

Most academic articles or essays incorporate regular literature review sections, often placed after the introduction. These sections serve to establish a scholarly basis for the research or discussion within the paper.

In a standard 8000-word journal article, the literature review section typically spans between 750 and 1250 words. The first few sentences or the first paragraph within this section often serve as an introduction. It should encompass:

  • An introduction to the topic: When delving into the academic literature on a specific topic, it’s important to provide a smooth transition that aids the reader in comprehending why certain aspects will be discussed within your literature review.
  • The core argument: While literature review sections primarily synthesize the work of other scholars, they should consistently connect to your central argument. This central argument serves as the crux of your message or the key takeaway you want your readers to retain. By positioning it at the outset of the literature review section and systematically substantiating it with evidence, you not only enhance reader comprehension but also elevate overall readability. This primary argument can typically be distilled into 1-2 succinct sentences.

In some cases, you might include:

  • Methodology: Details about the methodology used, but only if your literature review employed a specialized method. If your approach involved a broader overview without a systematic methodology, you can omit this section, thereby conserving word count.

By addressing these elements, your introduction will effectively integrate your literature review into the broader context of your academic paper or essay. This will, in turn, assist your reader in seamlessly following your overarching line of argumentation.

Introduction to a literature review chapter in thesis or dissertation

The literature review typically constitutes a distinct chapter within a thesis or dissertation. Often, it is Chapter 2 of a thesis or dissertation.

Some students choose to incorporate a brief introductory section at the beginning of each chapter, including the literature review chapter. Alternatively, others opt to seamlessly integrate the introduction into the initial sentences of the literature review itself. Both approaches are acceptable, provided that you incorporate the following elements:

  • Purpose of the literature review and its relevance to the thesis/dissertation research: Explain the broader objectives of the literature review within the context of your research and how it contributes to your thesis or dissertation. Essentially, you’re telling the reader why this literature review is important and how it fits into the larger scope of your academic work.
  • Primary argument: Succinctly communicate what you aim to prove, explain, or explore through the review of existing literature. This statement helps guide the reader’s understanding of the review’s purpose and what to expect from it.
  • Preview of the literature review’s content: Provide a brief overview of the topics or themes that your literature review will cover. It’s like a roadmap for the reader, outlining the main areas of focus within the review. This preview can help the reader anticipate the structure and organization of your literature review.
  • Methodology: If your literature review involved a specific research method, such as a systematic review or meta-analysis, you should briefly describe that methodology. However, this is not always necessary, especially if your literature review is more of a narrative synthesis without a distinct research method.

By addressing these elements, your introduction will empower your literature review to play a pivotal role in your thesis or dissertation research. It will accomplish this by integrating your research into the broader academic literature and providing a solid theoretical foundation for your work.

Comprehending the art of crafting your own literature review introduction becomes significantly more accessible when you have concrete examples to examine. Here, you will find several examples that meet, or in most cases, adhere to the criteria described earlier.

Example 1: An effective introduction for an academic literature review paper

To begin, let’s delve into the introduction of an academic literature review paper. We will examine the paper “How does culture influence innovation? A systematic literature review”, which was published in 2018 in the journal Management Decision.

literature introduction

The entire introduction spans 611 words and is divided into five paragraphs. In this introduction, the authors accomplish the following:

  • In the first paragraph, the authors introduce the broader topic of the literature review, which focuses on innovation and its significance in the context of economic competition. They underscore the importance of this topic, highlighting its relevance for both researchers and policymakers.
  • In the second paragraph, the authors narrow down their focus to emphasize the specific role of culture in relation to innovation.
  • In the third paragraph, the authors identify research gaps, noting that existing studies are often fragmented and disconnected. They then emphasize the value of conducting a systematic literature review to enhance our understanding of the topic.
  • In the fourth paragraph, the authors introduce their specific objectives and explain how their insights can benefit other researchers and business practitioners.
  • In the fifth and final paragraph, the authors provide an overview of the paper’s organization and structure.

In summary, this introduction stands as a solid example. While the authors deviate from previewing their key findings (which is a common practice at least in the social sciences), they do effectively cover all the other previously mentioned points.

Example 2: An effective introduction to a literature review section in an academic paper

The second example represents a typical academic paper, encompassing not only a literature review section but also empirical data, a case study, and other elements. We will closely examine the introduction to the literature review section in the paper “The environmentalism of the subalterns: a case study of environmental activism in Eastern Kurdistan/Rojhelat”, which was published in 2021 in the journal Local Environment.

literature introduction

The paper begins with a general introduction and then proceeds to the literature review, designated by the authors as their conceptual framework. Of particular interest is the first paragraph of this conceptual framework, comprising 142 words across five sentences:

“ A peripheral and marginalised nationality within a multinational though-Persian dominated Iranian society, the Kurdish people of Iranian Kurdistan (a region referred by the Kurds as Rojhelat/Eastern Kurdi-stan) have since the early twentieth century been subject to multifaceted and systematic discriminatory and exclusionary state policy in Iran. This condition has left a population of 12–15 million Kurds in Iran suffering from structural inequalities, disenfranchisement and deprivation. Mismanagement of Kurdistan’s natural resources and the degradation of its natural environmental are among examples of this disenfranchisement. As asserted by Julian Agyeman (2005), structural inequalities that sustain the domination of political and economic elites often simultaneously result in environmental degradation, injustice and discrimination against subaltern communities. This study argues that the environmental struggle in Eastern Kurdistan can be asserted as a (sub)element of the Kurdish liberation movement in Iran. Conceptually this research is inspired by and has been conducted through the lens of ‘subalternity’ ” ( Hassaniyan, 2021, p. 931 ).

In this first paragraph, the author is doing the following:

  • The author contextualises the research
  • The author links the research focus to the international literature on structural inequalities
  • The author clearly presents the argument of the research
  • The author clarifies how the research is inspired by and uses the concept of ‘subalternity’.

Thus, the author successfully introduces the literature review, from which point onward it dives into the main concept (‘subalternity’) of the research, and reviews the literature on socio-economic justice and environmental degradation.

While introductions to a literature review section aren’t always required to offer the same level of study context detail as demonstrated here, this introduction serves as a commendable model for orienting the reader within the literature review. It effectively underscores the literature review’s significance within the context of the study being conducted.

Examples 3-5: Effective introductions to literature review chapters

The introduction to a literature review chapter can vary in length, depending largely on the overall length of the literature review chapter itself. For example, a master’s thesis typically features a more concise literature review, thus necessitating a shorter introduction. In contrast, a Ph.D. thesis, with its more extensive literature review, often includes a more detailed introduction.

Numerous universities offer online repositories where you can access theses and dissertations from previous years, serving as valuable sources of reference. Many of these repositories, however, may require you to log in through your university account. Nevertheless, a few open-access repositories are accessible to anyone, such as the one by the University of Manchester . It’s important to note though that copyright restrictions apply to these resources, just as they would with published papers.

Master’s thesis literature review introduction

The first example is “Benchmarking Asymmetrical Heating Models of Spider Pulsar Companions” by P. Sun, a master’s thesis completed at the University of Manchester on January 9, 2024. The author, P. Sun, introduces the literature review chapter very briefly but effectively:

literature introduction

PhD thesis literature review chapter introduction

The second example is Deep Learning on Semi-Structured Data and its Applications to Video-Game AI, Woof, W. (Author). 31 Dec 2020, a PhD thesis completed at the University of Manchester . In Chapter 2, the author offers a comprehensive introduction to the topic in four paragraphs, with the final paragraph serving as an overview of the chapter’s structure:

literature introduction

PhD thesis literature review introduction

The last example is the doctoral thesis Metacognitive strategies and beliefs: Child correlates and early experiences Chan, K. Y. M. (Author). 31 Dec 2020 . The author clearly conducted a systematic literature review, commencing the review section with a discussion of the methodology and approach employed in locating and analyzing the selected records.

literature introduction

Having absorbed all of this information, let’s recap the essential steps and offer a succinct guide on how to proceed with creating your literature review introduction:

  • Contextualize your review : Begin by clearly identifying the academic context in which your literature review resides and determining the necessary information to include.
  • Outline your structure : Develop a structured outline for your literature review, highlighting the essential information you plan to incorporate in your introduction.
  • Literature review process : Conduct a rigorous literature review, reviewing and analyzing relevant sources.
  • Summarize and abstract : After completing the review, synthesize the findings and abstract key insights, trends, and knowledge gaps from the literature.
  • Craft the introduction : Write your literature review introduction with meticulous attention to the seamless integration of your review into the larger context of your work. Ensure that your introduction effectively elucidates your rationale for the chosen review topics and the underlying reasons guiding your selection.

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41 Introduction to Literature

When is the last time you read a book for fun? If you were to classify that book, would you call it fiction or literature? This is an interesting separation, with many possible reasons for it. One is that “fiction” and “literature” are regarded as quite different things. “Fiction,” for example, is what people read for enjoyment. “Literature” is what they read for school. Or “fiction” is what living people write and is about the present. “Literature” was written by people (often white males) who have since died and is about times and places that have nothing to do with us. Or “fiction” offers everyday pleasures, but “literature” is to be honored and respected, even though it is boring. Of course, when we put anything on a pedestal, we remove it from everyday life, so the corollary is that literature is to be honored and respected, but it is not to be read, certainly not by any normal person with normal interests.

Sadly, it is the guardians of literature, that is, of the classics, who have done so much to take the life out of literature, to put it on a pedestal and thereby to make it an irrelevant aspect of American life. People study literature because they love literature. They certainly don’t do it for the money. But what happens too often, especially in colleges, is that teachers forget what it was that first interested them in the study of literature. They forget the joy that they first felt (and perhaps still feel) as they read a new novel or a poem or as they reread a work and saw something new in it. Instead they erect formidable walls around these literary works, giving the impression that the only access to a work is through deep learning and years of study. Such study is clearly important for scholars, but this kind of scholarship is not the only way, or even necessarily the best way, for most people to approach literature. Instead it makes the literature seem inaccessible. It makes the literature seem like the province of scholars. “Oh, you have to be smart to read that,” as though Shakespeare or Dickens or Woolf wrote only for English teachers, not for general readers.

What is Literature?

In short, literature evokes imaginative worlds through the conscious arrangement of words that tell a story. These stories are told through different genres, or types of literature, like novels, short stories, poetry, drama, and the essay. Each genre is associated with certain conventions. In this text, we will study poetry, short fiction, drama, and even personal narratives.

Some Misconceptions about Literature

Of course, there are a number of misconceptions about literature that have to be gotten out of the way before anyone can enjoy it. One misconception is that literature is full of hidden meanings . There are certainly occasional works that contain hidden meanings. The biblical book of  Revelation , for example, was written in a kind of code, using images that had specific meanings for its early audience but that we can only recover with a great deal of difficulty. Most literary works, however, are not at all like that. Perhaps an analogy will illustrate this point. When I take my car to my mechanic because something is not working properly, he opens the hood and we both stand there looking at the engine. But after we have looked for a few minutes, he is likely to have seen what the problem is, while I could look for hours and never see it. We are looking at the same thing. The problem is not hidden, nor is it in some secret code. It is right there in the open, accessible to anyone who knows how to “read” it, which my mechanic does and I do not. He has been taught how to “read” automobile engines and he has practiced “reading” them. He is a good “close reader,” which is why I continue to take my car to him.

The same thing is true for readers of literature. Generally authors want to communicate with their readers, so they are not likely to hide or disguise what they are saying, but reading literature also requires some training and some practice. Good writers use language very carefully, and readers must learn how to be sensitive to that language, just as the mechanic must learn to be sensitive to the appearances and sounds of the engine. Everything that the writer wants to say, and much that the writer may not be aware of, is there in the words. We simply have to learn how to read them.

Another popular misconception is that a literary work has a single “meaning” (and that only English teachers know how to find that meaning). There is an easy way to dispel this misconception. Just go to a college library and find the section that holds books on Shakespeare. Choose one play,  Hamlet , for example, and see how many books there are about it, all by scholars who are educated, perceptive readers. Can it be the case that one of these books is correct and all the others are mistaken? And if the correct one has already been written, why would anyone need to write another book about the play? The answer is that there is no single correct way to read a good piece of literature.

Again, let me use an analogy to illustrate this point. Suppose that everyone at a meeting were asked to describe a person who was standing in the middle of the room. Imagine how many different descriptions there would be, depending on where the viewer sat in relation to the person. Furthermore, an optometrist in the crowd might focus on the person’s glasses; a hair stylist might focus on the person’s haircut; someone who sells clothing might focus on the style of dress; a podiatrist might focus on the person’s feet. Would any of these descriptions be incorrect? Not necessarily, but they would be determined by the viewers’ perspectives. They might also be determined by such factors as the viewers’ ages, genders, or ability to move around the person being viewed, or by their previous acquaintance with the subject. So whose descriptions would be correct? Conceivably all of them, and if we put all of these correct descriptions together, we would be closer to having a full description of the person.

This is most emphatically not to say, however, that all descriptions are correct simply because each person is entitled to his or her opinion. If the podiatrist is of the opinion that the person is five feet, nine inches tall, the podiatrist could be mistaken. And even if the podiatrist actually measures the person, the measurement could be mistaken. Everyone who describes this person, therefore, must offer not only an opinion but also a basis for that opinion. “My feeling is that this person is a teacher” is not enough. “My feeling is that this person is a teacher because the person’s clothing is covered with chalk dust and because the person is carrying a stack of papers that look like they need grading” is far better, though even that statement might be mistaken.

So it is with literature. As we read, as we try to understand and interpret, we must deal with the text that is in front of us; but we must also recognize both that language is slippery and that each of us individually deals with it from a different set of perspectives. Not all of these perspectives are necessarily legitimate, and we are always liable to be misreading or misinterpreting what we see. Furthermore, it is possible that contradictory readings of a single work will both be legitimate, because literary works can be as complex and multi-faceted as human beings. It is vital, therefore, that in reading literature we abandon both the idea that any individual’s reading of a work is the “correct” one and the idea that there is one simple way to read any work. Our interpretations may, and probably should, change according to the way we approach the work. If we read  War and Peace  as teenagers, then in middle age, and then in old age, we might be said to have read three different books. Thus, multiple interpretations, even contradictory interpretations, can work together to give us a better understanding of a work.

Why Reading Literature is Important

Reading literature can teach us new ways to read, think, imagine, feel, and make sense of our own experiences. Literature forces readers to confront the complexities of the world, to confront what it means to be a human being in this difficult and uncertain world, to confront other people who may be unlike them, and ultimately to confront themselves.

The relationship between the reader and the world of a work of literature is complex and fascinating. Frequently when we read a work, we become so involved in it that we may feel that we have become part of it. “I was really into that novel,” we might say, and in one sense that statement can be accurate. But in another sense it is clearly inaccurate, for actually we do not enter the book so much as the book enters us; the words enter our eyes in the form of squiggles on a page which are transformed into words, sentences, paragraphs, and meaningful concepts in our brains, in our imaginations, where scenes and characters are given “a local habitation and a name.” Thus, when we “get into” a book, we are actually “getting into” our own mental conceptions that have been produced by the book, which, incidentally, explains why so often readers are dissatisfied with cinematic or television adaptations of literary works.

In fact, though it may seem a trite thing to say, writers are close observers of the world who are capable of communicating their visions, and the more perspectives we have to draw on, the better able we should be to make sense of our lives. In these terms, it makes no difference whether we are reading a Homeric poem, a twelfth-century Japanese novel like  The Tale of Genji , or a novel by Dickens. The more different perspectives we get, the better. And it must be emphasized that we read such works not only to be well-rounded (whatever that means) or to be “educated” or for antiquarian interest. We read them because they have something to do with us, with our lives. Whatever culture produced them, whatever the gender or race or religion of their authors, they relate to us as human beings; and all of us can use as many insights into being human as we can get. Reading is itself a kind of experience, and while we may not have the time or the opportunity or it may be physically impossible for us to experience certain things in the world, we can experience them through sensitive reading. So literature allows us to broaden our experiences.

Reading also forces us to focus our thoughts. The world around us is so full of stimuli that we are easily distracted. Unless we are involved in a crisis that demands our full attention, we flit from subject to subject. But when we read a book, even a book that has a large number of characters and covers many years, the story and the writing help us to focus, to think about what they show us in a concentrated manner. When I hold a book, I often feel that I have in my hand another world that I can enter and that will help me to understand the everyday world that I inhabit. Though it may sound funny, some of my best friends live in books, and no matter how frequently I visit them, each time I learn more about them and about myself.

Literature invites us to  meet interesting characters and to visit interesting places, to use our imagination and to think about things that might otherwise escape our notice, to see the world from perspectives that we would otherwise not have.

Watch this video for a lively overview of how and why we read literature. ( Please note that we will not be reading the texts the speaker mentions in the video in this course. )

How and Why We Read: Crash Course English Literature #1

How to Read Literature

1. Read with a pen in hand! Jot down questions, highlight things you find significant, mark confusing passages, look up unfamiliar words/references, and record first impressions.

2. Think critically to form a response.

  • The more you know about a story, the more pleasure your reading will provide as you uncover the hidden elements that create the theme of the piece.
  • Address your own biases and compare your own experiences with those expressed in the piece.
  • Test your positions and thoughts about the piece with what others think by doing research.

While you will have your own individual connection to a piece based on your life experiences, interpreting literature is not a willy nilly process. Each piece has an author who had a purpose in writing the piece–you want to uncover that purpose. As the speaker in the video you watched about how to read literature notes, you, as a reader, also have a role to play. Sometimes you may see something in the text that speaks to you–whether or not the author intended that piece to be there, it still matters to you. However, when writing about literature, it’s important that our observations can be supported by the text itself. Make sure you aren’t reading into the text something that isn’t there. Value the author for who he/she is and appreciate his/her experiences, while attempting to create a connection with yourself and your experiences.

Attributions:

  • Content written by Dr. Karen Palmer and licensed CC BY NC SA .
  • Content adapted from Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity by Theodore L. Steinberg and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Worry Free Writer Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Introduction to Literature

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Table of Contents

Instructor resources.

  • Defining Literature
  • Literary Terms
  • The Rough Guide to Literary Style, a Historical Overview
  • Billy Collins: A Poet Speaks Out
  • Note to Instructors
  • In-Class Writing Activities
  • Character Analysis
  • Close Reading
  • Symbolism Assignment
  • Comparative Essay

Genre Introduction

  • Introduction to American Literature
  • Introduction to Fiction
  • The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction
  • Introduction to Creative Nonfiction
  • Introduction to Plays and Film
  • Reading a Play
  • Reading Poetry
  • Poetry Lesson Presentation
  • Poetry Literary Terms: A Guide
  • Approaching Poetry (Includes Free Verse)
  • Approaching Poetry

Literary Conventions

  • Elements of Literature
  • Symbols in Literature
  • Characters and Characterization
  • Point of View
  • Perspective and Point of View

Writing About Literature

  • How to Read Like a Writer
  • Modes of Exposition
  • Reading to Write Effectively
  • How to Write With Style
  • Creating an Effective Style
  • Structure in Literary Essays
  • Distinguish Between Primary and Secondary Sources
  • Using Databases: Periodical Indexes and Abstracts
  • Writing an Introduction to a Literary Analysis Essay
  • Creating MLA Works Cited Entries
  • MLA In-Text Citations
  • Annotated Bibliographies: An Illustrated Guide

Literary Analysis

  • The Nature of Analysis
  • How to Analyze a Novel
  • How to Analyze a Short Story
  • How to Analyze Poetry
  • How to Analyze a Film
  • Finding Literary Criticism
  • Reader-Response Criticism
  • Introduction to Critical Theory
  • New Criticism
  • Multicultural Societies Explained

Poetry Readings and Responses

  • Maya Angelou, "On the Pulse of Morning," 1993
  • Billy Collins, "The Lanyard," 2007
  • Emily Dickinson, Poems Series One, 1890
  • Emily Dickinson, "Wild nights - Wild nights!" 1861
  • Robert Frost, "Acquainted with the Night," 1923
  • Robert Frost, "The Lockless Door," 1920
  • Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again," 1935
  • Edgar Allen Poe, The Complete Poetical Works, 1845
  • Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven," 1845
  • Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, 1920
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Selected Works, 1855
  • Theodore Roethke, "My Papa's Waltz," 1961
  • Reader-response to "My Papa's Waltz"
  • Christina Rossetti, "Goblin Market," 1862
  • William Shakespeare, Sonnets, 1609
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind," 1891
  • Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773
  • Walt Whitman, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," 1865
  • William Carlos Williams, "The Red Wheelbarrow," 1962
  • Additional Poems

Drama Readings and Responses

  • Anton Chekhov, "The Bear," 1888
  • Anton Chekhov, "The Cherry Orchard," 1904
  • Anton Chekhov, "The Three Sisters," 1900
  • Susan Glaspell, "Inheritors," 1921
  • Susan Glaspell, "The Outside," 1916
  • Susan Glaspell, "Trifles," 1916
  • Susan Glaspell, "The Verge," 1921
  • Langston Hughes and Zora Hurston, "The Mule-Bone," 1930
  • Henrik Ibsen, "A Doll's House," 1879
  • Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895
  • Critical Reviews of Film Version of The Importance of Being Earnest

Fiction Readings and Responses

  • Louisa May Alcott, "Scarlet Stockings," 1869
  • Ambrose Bierce, "The Middle Toe of the Right Foot," 1890
  • Henry Cuyler Bunner, "The Nice People," 1890
  • Willa Cather, "On the Gull's Road," 1908
  • Anton Chekhov, "Peasant Wives," 1891
  • Kate Chopin, "Regret," 1897
  • Kate Chopin, "The Story of an Hour," 1894
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1899
  • Joseph Conrad, "The Idiots," 1896
  • Philip K. Dick, "Beyond the Door," 1954
  • Charles Dickens, "The Signal-Man," 1866
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, "Scandal in Bohemia," 1891
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Ice Palace," 1920
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Ethan Brand," 1850
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown," 1835
  • Critical Responses to "Young Goodman Brown"
  • Kelly Link, "The Specialist's Hat," 1998
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper," 1892
  • Saki, "The Open Window," 1914
  • Mary Shelley, "The Mortal Immortal," 1833
  • Jim Shepard, "The Zero Meter Diving Team," 2007
  • Mark Twain, "Eve's Diary," 1905
  • Madhuri Vijay, "Lorry Raja," 2012
  • Analysis of "Lorry Raja"

Nonfiction Readings and Responses

  • Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, 1855
  • Henry David Thoreau, "Walden," 1854
  • Mark Twain, "Two Ways of Seeing A River," 1883
  • Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery, 1901
  • Zitkala-Sa, "The School Days of an Indian Girl," 1900
  • Other Creative Nonfiction Readings

This courseware includes resources copyrighted and openly licensed by multiple individuals and organizations. Click the words "Licenses and Attributions" at the bottom of each page for copyright and licensing information specific to the material on that page. If you believe that this courseware violates your copyright, please contact us .

Cover Image: "book pages." Authored by: Jamie Dench. Located at: https://unsplash.com/photos/lxB3rnZsJF4 . Content Type: CC Licensed Content, Shared Previously. License: CC0: No Rights Reserved .

Lumen Learning

Lumen Learning provides a simple, supported path for faculty members to adopt and teach effectively with open educational resources (OER). Read more about what we do.

  • UConn Library
  • Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide
  • Introduction

Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide — Introduction

  • Getting Started
  • How to Pick a Topic
  • Strategies to Find Sources
  • Evaluating Sources & Lit. Reviews
  • Tips for Writing Literature Reviews
  • Writing Literature Review: Useful Sites
  • Citation Resources
  • Other Academic Writings

What are Literature Reviews?

So, what is a literature review? "A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries." Taylor, D.  The literature review: A few tips on conducting it . University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Centre.

Goals of Literature Reviews

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?  A literature could be written to accomplish different aims:

  • To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
  • To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
  • Identify a problem in a field of research 

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews .  Review of General Psychology , 1 (3), 311-320.

What kinds of sources require a Literature Review?

  • A research paper assigned in a course
  • A thesis or dissertation
  • A grant proposal
  • An article intended for publication in a journal

All these instances require you to collect what has been written about your research topic so that you can demonstrate how your own research sheds new light on the topic.

Types of Literature Reviews

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Narrative review: The purpose of this type of review is to describe the current state of the research on a specific topic/research and to offer a critical analysis of the literature reviewed. Studies are grouped by research/theoretical categories, and themes and trends, strengths and weakness, and gaps are identified. The review ends with a conclusion section which summarizes the findings regarding the state of the research of the specific study, the gaps identify and if applicable, explains how the author's research will address gaps identify in the review and expand the knowledge on the topic reviewed.

  • Example : Predictors and Outcomes of U.S. Quality Maternity Leave: A Review and Conceptual Framework:  10.1177/08948453211037398  

Systematic review : "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139). Nelson, L. K. (2013). Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders . Plural Publishing.

  • Example : The effect of leave policies on increasing fertility: a systematic review:  10.1057/s41599-022-01270-w

Meta-analysis : "Meta-analysis is a method of reviewing research findings in a quantitative fashion by transforming the data from individual studies into what is called an effect size and then pooling and analyzing this information. The basic goal in meta-analysis is to explain why different outcomes have occurred in different studies." (p. 197). Roberts, M. C., & Ilardi, S. S. (2003). Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology . Blackwell Publishing.

  • Example : Employment Instability and Fertility in Europe: A Meta-Analysis:  10.1215/00703370-9164737

Meta-synthesis : "Qualitative meta-synthesis is a type of qualitative study that uses as data the findings from other qualitative studies linked by the same or related topic." (p.312). Zimmer, L. (2006). Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts .  Journal of Advanced Nursing , 53 (3), 311-318.

  • Example : Women’s perspectives on career successes and barriers: A qualitative meta-synthesis:  10.1177/05390184221113735

Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences

  • UConn Health subject guide on systematic reviews Explanation of the different review types used in health sciences literature as well as tools to help you find the right review type
  • << Previous: Getting Started
  • Next: How to Pick a Topic >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 21, 2022 2:16 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.uconn.edu/literaturereview

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Introduction and History of English literature

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Elif Notes is here to help you in your search for ‘Introduction and History of English Literature’. You can find more topics related to English literature at elifnotes.com

Table of Contents

What is English Literature?

Literature is the reflection of life. It mirrors the society in which it is generated. The word literature comes from the Latin word ‘litaritura’ meaning “writing organized with letters”. We classify literature according to language, origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.

Initially, literature was a form of entertainment for the people. Over time, it attained the purpose of reform as well. The writers stated highlighting the social issues in their writing. Thus, it became a medium to draw the audience’s attention to certain matters and urge them to think about the reform. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, indeed, all the works of literature have given us insight into the issues and trends prevailing at that time. Literature also provides escape from the ‘grim realities’ of life. While many people read to escape the boredom of their life. Moreover, the higher type of literature helps the reader to escape from trivial reality into significant reality.

English literature , however, emerged with the beginning of the history of English people. It refers to all the literary works (novels, short stories, poems, fiction, nonfiction, and plays) composed in English. The earliest works of English literature mirror the life lived by the people of that region at that specific period. For instance, all the changes undergone by English society from the earliest to the modern time have left their imprints on English literature. 

Being the literature of a nation characterized by the spirit of determination, adventure, and diligence, English literature is rich in vitality, diversity, and essence. 

A Brief History of English Literature

The introduction and history of English literature go side by side. You can’t get the complete introduction of English literature without going deep down in its history.

The history of English literature initiated with the history of the English race and kept on developing with the social development of the nation. When we analyze the history of English literature, we discover that it consists of eight (8) major periods and several ages. Each period or age of English literature is named after the central literary figure, or the important rulers of England, or certain literary movements. Moreover each period or phase of English literature has its distinct characteristics.

What are the ‘Eight (8) Major Periods’ of English Literature?

The major eight (8) periods in the history of English literature are:

  • The Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (450–1066)
  • The Anglo-Norman or Middle English period (1066–1500)
  • The Renaissance Period (1500–1660)
  • The Neoclassical Period (1660–1798)
  • The Romantic Period (1798–1837)
  • The Victorian Period (1837–1901)
  • The Modern Period (1901-1945)
  • The Contemporary Period (1945–Today)

Timeline-of-english-literature-history-all-ages-and-sub-periods-flowcahrt

A Brief Overview & Timeline of British Literary Periods

Let us briefly overview and analyze the history of English literature from the earliest times up to the present age.

1. The Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (450-1066 AD)

The Anglo-Saxon period in English literature refers to the time period between the 5th and 11th centuries, also known as the Early Medieval period.

The Angles and Saxons were the ancestors of the English race. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the early 5th Century, three Germanic tribes—the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—saw an opportunity to fill in the power gap and started migrating to Britain. The Anglo-Saxons were fearless, adventurous, and brave people. By 670 A.D. they had occupied the major part of the country, and the land of Anglos or Angloland —present day England—became their permanent abode.

Anglo-Saxon-migration-map-history-of-english

The language brought by these Anglo-Saxon settlers together with some Latin and Celtic words became Old English. It is the earliest period of English literature, and it is characterized by its unique language, poetic forms, and themes. It includes diverse works of epic poetry ( Beowulf, The Wanderer) , religious texts, historical chronicles, and riddles (The Exeter Book riddles) written in Old English.

The Anglo-Saxon period lasted from the 5th Century AD to the Norman Conquest of 11th Century AD.

The Old English spoken by Anglo-Saxon people looks incomprehensible to today’s English-speakers. However, there are a good number of words that have survived in modern day English such as “day” , “year”, “kiss” , “love” , “arm” etc.

1.1 Anglo-Saxon Poetry

The Anglo-Saxons were fond of singing about battles, gods and their ancestral heroes. It is, however, these songs of religion, wars, and agriculture that marked the beginning of English poetry in ancient England. 

The Anglo-Saxon poetry was mostly sung instead of written. That’s why there are very few remnants left of it. Among them, the most famous one is Beowulf . It is the first English epic poem. Beowulf narrates a tale of the adventures of Beowulf, a brave hero. This poem, in fact, abounds in all sorts of references and allusions to great events and the fortunes of kings and nations.

After embracing Christianity, the Anglo-Saxon poets began to write religious poetry. Therefore, the major portion of Anglo-Saxon poetry encompasses religion. The most famous religious poets of the Anglo-Saxon period were Caedmon and Cynewulf. Caedmon is famous for his Hymn in which praises in honor of God. Cynewulf’s famous religious poems were Juliana , The Fates of the Apostles , Crist , and Elene . Among them , ‘Crist’ is the most popular one telling the event that occurred in the life of Jesus Christ.

1.2. The Anglo-Saxon Prose

The Anglo-Saxons replaced Latin prose with English which observed all the rules of ordinary speech in its construction. The famous Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great, translated most of the famous Latin Chronicles in English. However, the second famous prose writer of the Anglo-Saxon period was, no doubt, Aelfric. He was actually a priest. Among his famous writings were Lives of the Saints, Homilies , and Gramma r. Moreover, compared to other contemporary prose writers of the period, Aelfric’s prose was easy and alliterative.

1.3. The Decline of Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxon period flourished until the Norman Conquest of 1066. After the defeat of Harold, the last of Saxon kings, by William who was the Conqueror of Normandy, France, the Anglo-Saxon period finally came to an end. In history, their ruling period extends roughly from 450 A.D. to 1066 A.D. 

There is no doubt that the Anglo-Saxons lived a life rich in courage, splendor, savagery, and sentiment. Their literature, thus, remarkably contains all these traits. It reflects all the main principles of their life, for instance, the love of personal freedom, religion, appreciation for womanhood, responsiveness to nature, and the struggle for glory.

2. The Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period (1066-1500 AD)

anglo-norman-period-elifnotes

With the Norman conquest began a new era in the history of England literature. The Normans brought with them their rich French culture and language. The literature of this period comes under the category of Norman-French Literature or Anglo-French Literature. Since the Anglo-Norman period belonged to the Middle Ages or Medieval times in Britain History, we also call it the Middle English period in the history of English literature.

The Norman Conquest brought a radical change in English culture, law, language, and character. English became the language spoken only by the poor and powerless. While Norman-French became the language of the rich. It also became the symbol of social status and prestige. The Anglo-Normans wrote mainly to cater to the taste of Norman rulers. Moreover, only the monarchs and courtiers of that time had a right to encourage the literary writings.

We can’t deny the fact that the Norman Contest stimulated the awakening of the people, who extremely needed an outside stimulus at that time. Soon the people got influenced by a new vision and ultimately united in a common hope. As a result, the Anglo-Saxons’ hostility towards the Normans also turned into national unity. 

The Normans brought with them their soldiers, artisans, traders, chroniclers, minstrels, and scholars. With their help, they wanted to revive knowledge, record memorable events, celebrate victories, and sing of love and adventure. In addition, the most popular forms of writing for the Anglo-Normans were chronicles, religious and didactic writing, poetry, romances and drama.  

2.1. The Romances of Anglo-Norman Period

In contrast to the courage, seriousness, and savagery of the Anglo-Saxon literature, the Normans introduced romantic tales of love and adventure in literature. This made the Anglo-Norman period to be chivalric rather than a heroic one. Romance became the most popular form of literature during the Anglo-Norman or Middle English period. These romances were famous for their stories rather than poetry. Most of them, in fact, had their origin in Latin and French sources. They told the stories of King Arthur, The War of Troy, the mythical doings of Charlemagne, and Alexander the Great.

2.2. Chronicles in the Anglo-Norman Period  

In the Anglo-Norman period of English literature, chronicles became a well-established form of writing. These chronicles basically recorded the history of kings. Though written in the Anglo-Norman language, these chronicles, however, became the major source of historical knowledge for medieval people. Additionally, they contained historical events, and legendary material without any interpretation or comment by the author.

2.3. The Mystery and Miracle Plays

Another remarkable achievement of the Middle English Period, however, was religious or didactic writings. Under this category came the Mystery and Miracle plays. The Mystery plays were based on subjects taken from the Bible while the Miracle plays depicted the lives of saints. Since only the clergymen of the church had the authority to write and perform these plays, they chose Latin as the medium of writing and performing these plays.

2.4. The Morality Plays

In the Middle English period, Morality plays also became very popular. Allegory was, in fact, the main streak of these plays. In the Morality plays characters were personified abstractions presenting the conflict in the human soul. The sole purpose of these plays was to instruct the people through the Bible, lives of saints, and the conflict between good and evil. Hence, these plays also came under the category of religious and didactic writing of that period.

2.5. The Anglo-Norman Poets

Some of the famous poets of the Middle English period and their notable works are briefly discussed below:

2.5.1. Philippe de Thaun 

Philipe de Thaun was one of the earliest Anglo-Norman poets of the period. He was mainly famous for his two significant poems. The first one was ‘Livre des Creatures’’. It was a treatise on astronomy written around 1119. His second famous work was the allegorical poem ‘ Bestiaire ’ written around 1121 in the Anglo-Norman dialect.

2.5.2. Reginald of Canterbury 

Another famous Anglo-Norman poet is Reginald of Canterbury. He was a monk as well. His most famous poem is ‘ The Legend of St Malchus’ which was written around 1112.

2.5.3. Hilarius 

Hilarius was another Anglo-Norman poet of the 12th century. He was an Englishman but wrote his poems in Latin. In his poems, he has mainly addressed to English persons.

2.5.4. Benoit de Sainte Maur 

Benoit de Sainte-Maure was a famous French poet in the 12th century. His most famous work was ‘ Roman de Troie’ (The Romance of Troy).

2.5.5. William Langland

One of the notable poets of the Middle Ages , William Langland emerged in the 14th century. He held a significant place in the history of English literature and wrote many important poems. His most famous poem is ‘ A Vision of Piers the Plowman’. As a satire on the corrupt religious practices, Langland’s poem clearly discusses the ethical problems of that time. Most of his poems are satirical in nature and bring about moral, political and social questions.

2.5.6. John Gower

John Gower also occupied a significant place in the development of English poetry of the Medieval period. He wrote around the 14th or 15th century bringing about the poems that represented the English culmination of courtly medieval poetry. His poems, indeed, proved that English can compete with the other languages that had distinguished themselves in poetry. Gower was mainly a narrative poet and a moralist. His most famous poem is Confession Amantis , written in the form of conversation between the divine interpreter and the poet. Like Chaucer, John Gower also played a significant role in developing English language as a thoroughly equipped medium of literature. 

2.6. The Age of Chaucer

Towards the end of the Middle English period came ‘ The Age of Chaucer ’, covering the period from 1343 to 1450. It is the most significant time period in the literary history of English literature. Chaucer made a fresh and distinct beginning in English literature and became the ‘Father of English literature’ as well as the ‘Father of English poetry’. Chaucer’s poetry has been widely read from his own day to the present time. He was not merely a bookman or the visionary, rather, he was a man of the world and its affairs.

Chaucer’s most significant work is Canterbury Tales . It is a collection of stories related by the pilgrims of different sections of society who are on their way to Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. A landmark in the history of English poetry, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales enriched the English language and meter to an extent that could be conveniently used for any purpose. Furthermore, his introduction of a variety of characters into a single action and their engagement in animated dialogues fulfilled every requirement of the dramatists who were short of bringing their plays on the stage. Chaucer’s works also showed to the novelists the way to portray their characters.

2.6.1. Decline in English Poetry

Chaucer’s significance in the development of English literature is remarkable as he shifted poetry from the region of Theology and Metaphysics to the old classical principle of the direct imitation of nature. After Chaucer there came a decline in English poetry for about 100 years. The period from 1400 to the Renaissance was bereft of quality literature. The poets of that time period produced little work and merely imitated Chaucer and his contemporaries. 

Although the beginning of the Anglo-Norman Period is obvious, historians differ on when this period ended. Some historians say that it ended in 1144 or 1066, while for others it lasted up to 1450 or 1500. The Norman Conquest of England had, in fact, a profound effect in introducing various changes in the history of English literature. ‘ The Age of Chaucer was followed by The Renaissance Period also known as the Elizabethan Period or the Age of Shakespeare in the history of English literature.

3. The Renaissance Period (1500–1660)

The-Renaissance-Period-English-Literature-elifnotes

The Renaissance Period in the history of English literature is also known as the Elizabethan Period or the Age of Shakespeare . It is, in fact, the ‘golden age’ in the history of English literature. After the Middle Ages in Europe came the Renaissance, meaning revival or rebirth. As a result, the darkness of the middle ages was replaced by the enlightenment of the human mind with the ‘Revival of Learning’, which the Renaissance prompted. 

The major characteristic of the Renaissance was its focus on Humanism i.e. man’s concern with himself as an object of observation. The Renaissance actually started Italy by Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. However, it became popular in Europe during the Elizabethan Period. Beside focusing on the ‘study of mankind’, Renaissance had numerous subordinate trends which were actually the significant aspects of Humanism. These include:

  • The rediscovery of classical antiquity, particularly of ancient Greece.
  • The rediscovery of the external universe, and its importance for man.
  • The problems of human personality.
  • The enhanced sensitivity to formal beauty, and the cultivation of the aesthetic sense. 
  • The belief that men are responsible for their own actions. 

Instead of looking up to some higher authority for guidance, as was done in The Middle Ages, the writers of the Renaissance Period found guidance from within. 

3.1. Elizabethan Drama

During the Renaissance Period the most important achievement in English literature was in the field of drama. The dramatists of this golden period include William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, Lyly, George Peele, Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene and others. All these writers produced prolific works. However, the greatest among all Elizabethan dramatists was Shakespeare in whose hands the Elizabethan drama reached its climax. He took English drama to the level which could not be surpassed till today. 

The main characteristics of the Elizabethan drama include–revenge themes, internal conflicts, good versus evil, melodramatic scenes, hero-villain protagonists, tragic-comedy, presence of supernatural beings such as ghosts and witches and the use of blank verse. Here are some famous dramatists of the Elizabethan Period:

3.1.1. Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

There was a famous group of dramatists in the Elizabethan Period known as ‘University Wits’. It was actually a professional set of literary men. Of all the members of this group Marlowe was the greatest, while other dramatists such as Lyly, Peele, Greene, Lodge, and Nash were minor artists.

Nevertheless, Marlowe’s contributions to the Elizabethan drama were remarkable. Although his plays were different from Shakespeare’s in content and style, yet he raised the subject-matter of drama to a higher level. It was Marlowe who gave beauty, dignity, and poetic glow to the drama. There is no doubt that he did the groundwork on which Shakespeare built the grand edifice. Therefore, Marlowe has been rightly called “ the Father of English Dramatic Poetry. ”

Marlowe’s first play Tamburlaine appeared in 1587 and took the public on a storm due to its impetuous force, sensitivity to beauty, and splendid command of blank verse. His other famous work, however, include The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus which tells the story of a scholar who sells his soul to the devil for unlimited power and worldly enjoyment. The third famous tragic play of Marlowe is The Jew of Malta . Though it has a glorious opening, it is not as fine as Doctor Faustus. Marlowe’s last play is Edward II which is best from technical point of view but lacks the rhythmic beauty as well as grandeur of his earlier plays.

3.1.2. William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

It was Shakespeare, the greatest of all Elizabethan dramatists, who took English drama to the highest peak of fame. He was, indeed, a gifted man. His brilliant imagination, keen insight, and a creative mind gave new life to the old familiar stories and made them glow with tenderest feelings and deepest thoughts. His style and versification were extremely remarkable. He was not only the greatest dramatist of his time, but also a famous poet as well. His sonnets, replete with passion and aesthetic sense, also possess a significant place in the history of English literature. Although Shakespeare belonged to the Elizabethan Age, due to his universality he belongs to all times. 

Shakespeare’s works include non-dramatic poetry consisting of two narrative poems, Venice and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece , 154 sonnets, and 37 plays. His work as a dramatist extends over some 24 years (1588-1612), and is divided into four periods. Let’s briefly overview this period:

west-side-story-shakespeare-romeo-juliet-adaption-elifnotes

1577-1593: First Period

This period includes Shakespeare’s early experimental work. The famous works of this period are: the revision of old plays as the three parts of Henry VI and Titus Andronicus ; his first comedies— The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love’s Labor’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Comedy of Errors ; his first chronicle play— Richard III ; and his most famous youthful tragedy— Romeo and Juliet.

1594-1600: Second Period

This period reveals Shakespeare’s development as a great thinker and artist. The works of this period includes Shakespeare’s great comedies and chronicle plays such as: The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, Henry IV, King John, Henry V, Part I and II, Much Ado About Nothing, The Training of the Shrew, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Twelfth Night. 

1601-1608: Third Period

This period includes Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and somber comedies. His main concern there is to reveal the darker side of human personality and its destructive passions. The major works of this period are: Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, King Lear, All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Coriolanus, Anthony and Cleopatra, Troilus and Cressida, and Timon of Athens.

1608-1612: Fourth Period

This period includes Shakespeare’s later dramatic romances and comedies. Here we see a decline in his power of thought and expression. Still his plays are tender and gracious. The famous works of this period are: The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and Cymbeline . He wrote all these plays in collaboration with other dramatists. 

3.1.3. Ben Johnson (1573-1637)

Ben Johnson was Shakespeare’s contemporary as well as a prominent dramatist of his times. But he was just the opposite of Shakespeare. A moralist, reformer, and a classist, Johnson in his works presented a true picture of contemporary society. He wrote his plays in a realistic manner and introduced his theory of ‘humour’. His famous comedies are: The Alchemist, Bartholomew, Fair, Volpone, Every Man in His Humour, Every Man Out of His Humour, and The Silent Woman.

3.1.4. Other Major Figures

There were many other playwrights who were part of the Golden Age of English Drama. For instance, Lyly wrote Euphues, Sapho and Phao, Midas, Endymion and Compaspe. Thomas Kyd wrote The Spanish Tragedy . Robert Greene wrote Orlando Furioso . Compared to the works of the greatest dramatists of this period, their works are of little importance.

3.1.5. The Puritan Age (1600-1660)

In the 17th century came the decline of the Renaissance spirit. The writers of that time either imitated the Elizabethan masters or paved new paths. The 17th century’s literature is divided into two periods— The Puritan Age or the Age of Milton (1600-1660) and the Restoration Period or the Age of Dryden (1660-1700). Up to 1660, Puritanism dominated the 17th Century. John Milton was the greatest representative of the Puritan spirit. The Puritan movement in literature is also called the second Renaissance because of the revival of man’s moral nature . It stood for people’s liberty from the shackles of the despotic ruler and introduced morality and high ideals in politics. 

John Milton (1608-1674) was the most significant poet of the Puritan Age. He was a great scholar of classical as well as Hebrew literature. A child of the Renaissance, Milton was also a great humanist. As an artist we may call him the last Elizabethan. Milton’s greatest poetical works are Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained , and Samson Agonistes . Besides Milton, the poetry of The School of Spencer, The Metaphysical Poets, and The Cavalier Poets also earned great fame. But no one of them was as noblest and indomitable representative of the Puritan spirit as John Milton.

Moreover, this period was rich in prose as well. Among the great prose writers of the Puritan Age include Francis Bacon, Milton, Robert Burton, Jeremy Tayler, Sir Thomas Brown and Clarendon. During this period we find English prose developing into a magniloquent and rich instrument capable of expressing all types of ideas, such as scientific, philosophical, poetic, religious and personal.

4. The Neoclassical Period (1660-1798)

The period between 1660 and 1798 is roughly marked as the Neoclassical Period in the history of English literature. Moreover, this time period is divided into two parts: the Restoration Period or the Age of Dryden (1660-1700), and the Classical Age or the Augustan Age (18 Century). The Classical Age is further divided into two distinct periods–the Age of Pope (1700-1744) and the Age of Johnson (1744-1784) . 

4.1. The Restoration Period (1660-1700)

The period from 1660 to 1700 is called the Restoration Period because monarchy was restored in England, and Charles II came back to England from his exile in France and became the King. It is also known as the Age of Dryden because Dryden was the most significant literary figure of the age. The Puritans who were previously controlling the country were finally defeated. As a result, a reaction was launched against whatever they held sacred. All restraints and discipline were casted away, and a tide of indecency and frivolity swept the country. Since Charles II and his followers had enjoyed a gay life during their exile in France, they introduced same foppery and looseness in England as well. 

As a result, the people were deprived of the old Elizabethan spirit with its patriotism, creative vigor and the love of adventure and romance. Moreover, the Puritan spirit with its moral discipline and love of liberty also became a thing of the past. The writers of this period made two important contributions to English literature. The first was in the form of realism and the second was a tendency to preciseness. 

4.1.1 The Restoration Poetry

The Restoration Poetry was mostly realistic and satirical. It was mostly written in the heroic couplet, of which Dryden was the greatest master. He was the most important figure of the Restoration Period and made great achievements in the fields of poetry, drama and prose.  In fact, he was the only poet of his age worth mentioning. He wrote in a lucid and forceful style that laid the foundation of the classical school of poetry in England.

Furthermore, Dryden’s poetry is divided into three groups: Doctrinal Poems , Political Satires, and The Fables . His famous political satires include Absalom and Achitophel and The Medal . Dryden’s famous doctrinal poems are Religio Laici and The Hind and the Panther . His fables, written in narrative form, entitle him to rank among the best story-tellers in verse in England. Palamon and Arcite can be examined in this regard. Dryden’s poetry displays all the characteristics of the Restoration Period and is, therefore, thoroughly representative of that age.

4.1.1 The Restoration Drama and Prose

Restoration drama showed entirely new trends due to the long break with the past. It was extremely influenced by the new age that was deficient in poetic feeling, imagination, and emotional approach to life. Rather, it focused on prose as the medium of expression, and had a realistic, intellectual and critical approach to human life and its problems. 

The Comedy of Manners was the most famous form of drama during the Restoration Period. It portrayed the sophistical life of society’s dominant class—its insolence, gaiety, intrigue and foppery. The most popular Restoration dramatist was William Congreve. He wrote the best comedies, for instance, Love for Love and The Way of the World . The chief writer of heroic tragedy was Dryden. His famous tragic plays include Tyrannic Love, All for Love, and The Conquest of Granada .

In the field of prose, the Restoration Period held its head higher than poetry and drama. A unique prose style evolved for the first time. This style could be used for plain narrative, practical business, and argumentative exposition of intricate topics. Dryden was the dominant leader and practitioner of that new prose style. Other famous prose writers of the period were John Bunyan, John Tillotson, William Temple, Thomas Sprat, and Viscount Halifax. Besides Dryden, John Bunyan was the greatest prose writer of the age. His most famous work is The Pilgrim’s Progress .

4.2. The Classical or Augustan Age (18th Century)

The 18th century in English literature is called the Classical Age or the Augustan Age . We also call it the Age of Reason or the Age of Good Sense . The writers of the age produced works of great significance and merit. The major characteristics of the Restoration period—precision and realism—were carried to further perfection. It was during the 18th century that for the first time in the history of English literature prose occupied the front position. 

The most important feature of the 18th Century was the origin and development of the novel. This new literary form, which at present holds a prominent place, was fed and nourished by the great masters such as Defoe, Richardson, Smollet, Fielding, and others. All these writers laid the secure foundation of this new form.

4.2.1 The Age of Pope (1700-1744)

The earlier part of the 18th Century is called the Age of Pope , since Alexander Pope was the dominating figure in that period. The poetry of the Age of Pope is not of a high order. Still, it has some distinct merits such as the creation of a technically beautiful verse, the clarity of its expression and the finished art of satire.

The famous poets of this age include Alexander Pope (the greatest of all poets of this age), Matthew Prior, John Gay, Edward Young and others. However, the greatest prose writers of this age were Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. The prose of this age exhibits the classical qualities—for instance, vigor, clarity, and direct statement. 

4.2.2 The Age of Johnson (1744-1784)

The later half of the Augustan Age was dominated by Dr. Samuel Johnson and is, therefore, called the Age of Johnson . During this age, cracks had begun to appear in the edifice of classicism and there were clear signs of revolt in favor of the Romantic spirit. It was especially noticeable in the field of poetry. The poets who showed romantic leanings in their poetry are the precursors of the Romantic Revival. These poets include James Thomson, William Blake, Thomas Gray, William Cowper, William Collins, and George Crabbe. Due to its Romantic inclinations, we also call the Age of Johnson as the Age of Transition in English Literature .

The dominating prose writers of this age were Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and Edward Gibbon. They were, indeed, the pillars of the Age of Johnson and represented in themselves the highest achievements of English prose. After the Age of Johnson came the Romantic Period. The Neoclassical period officially ended in 1798 when William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge published the ‘Lyrical Ballads’.

5. The Romantic Period (1798-1837)

The-Romantic-Period-English-Literature-elifnotes

The most flourished period in the history of English literature is the Romantic Period . It was a revolt against the Classical school of the 18th Century. Wordsworth, Coleridge , Southey, Shelley, Keats, and Byron  belonged to this period. The Romantic Age was basically the age of poetry. With the publication of Lyrical Ballads , Wordsworth and Coleridge introduced a new form of poetry in opposition to the poetry of the Classical school.

The Romantic poets focused on the simplicity of language and chose the language of the common people. They looked back to the Elizabethan masters—Shakespeare, Spenser and others—in order to take inspiration from them. Their poems usually dealt with the events of everyday life. The Romantic poets proved that if the trivial aspects of nature and the common things of life are treated in the right way, they could be as interesting and significant as the grand aspects of nature and life. 

The prose writers of the Romantic period also rejected the Augustan style of writing. They reverted to the ponderous, poetical and flowery prose of the Renaissance. Since the Romantic Age was characterized by the excess of emotions, it produced a new type of novel—the Gothic Novel —which soon became popular among the multitude of readers with its Gothic elements such as supernatural, gloomy settings and bizarre situations. 

5.1 Difference Between Classicism and Romanticism

Romanticism was explicitly opposed to Classicism. While the Classical Age was the age of prose, the Romantic Age was the age of poetry. During the Romantic Period, poetry became the proper medium of the expression of thoughts, emotions, and imaginative process of the artist. Classicism laid stress upon the impersonal aspects of life, whereas Romantic literature openly shifted the center of art to the personal aspects of individuals. 

Moreover, the heroic couplet was the only form of writing poetry in the Classical Age. While in the Romantic Period, the poets focused on simple and natural diction. The liberty of the poet from the shackles of the literary rules was the watchword of the Romantic movement . Thus, Romantic literature is a genuinely creative literature focusing on the highest creative faculty of man.

6. The Victorian Period (1837–1901)

The-Victorian-Period-English-literature-elifnotes

Beginning in the second quarter of the 19th Century, the Victorian Period is so long as well as complicated. Moreover, there are numerous great writers who flourished during that period. That’s why, for the sake of convenience, the Victorian Period is divided into two further periods— Early Victorian Period (1837-1870) and Later Victorian Period (1870-1901) . 

6.1. Early Victorian Period

The Earlier Victorian Period was, in fact, dominated by middle class supremacy, the age of ‘laissez-fair’ or free trade, and of unrestricted competition. The great writers of this period were Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, Thackeray and Ruskin. All these poets, novelists, and prose writers, in spite of their individual differences, exhibited the same approach to contemporary issues. Due to this, they form a certain homogenous group possessing the same social, literary, and moral values.

6.2. Later Victorian Period

The Later Victorian Period began after 1870. The most prominent writers of that period were Christiana Rossetti, Charles Swinburne, George Eliot, William Morris, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Pater and others. In poetry, Morris, Swinburne and Rossetti were the protagonists of a new literary movement—the Pre-Raphaelite Movement . Later on, this movement was followed by the Aesthetic Movement. Its protagonists were Oscar Wilde, Earnest Dowson, Arthur Symons and Lionel Pigot Johnson. In the field of novels, however, George Eliot laid the foundation of the ‘Modern Psychological Novel’, followed by Thomas Hardy and Meredith. 

The Victorian Period exhibits a unique and complex amalgamation of two opposites— Romanticism and Classicism. Basically, its inclination towards Classicism was due its rational approach to the problems of life, deeply moral attitude, and a search for stability and balance. On the other hand, it exhibited close proximity to the Romantic spirit which had not completely exhausted itself but suddenly ended due to the following reasons:

  • the premature deaths of Keats, Byron, and Shelley. 
  • the disillusionment resulted from industrialization and material prosperity.
  • the social and economic unrest.

Courtesy: By The Book

7. The Modern Period (1901-1945)

From the beginning of the 20th Century started the Modern Period in English literature. The most significant feature of Modern literature was that it opposed the general attitude of Victorian writers and people to life and its problems. During the first decade of the 20th Century, the young people regarded the Victorian age as hypocritical, and the Victorian ideals as superficial, mean and stupid. This rebellion hugely affected modern literature which was directed by moral values, spiritual ideals as well as mental attitudes that were dramatically opposed to those of the Victorians. 

Moreover, the Modernists no longer believed in the sanctity of home life as Victorians did. They also reacted against the Victorians’ attitude of self complacency and self perfection. Since the modern writers could no longer write in the old manner, they devised their own. If they wrote about the contempt of money, natural beauty, divine love, and the sentiments of home and life , they were considered running the risk of striking a false note. Even if they treated the same themes, they had to do it tactfully to evoke unique thoughts and emotions. The modern writers, therefore, had to cultivate a fresh point of view employing fresh techniques. 

The main cause of this attitude of interrogations and disintegration of old values was the impact of scientific thought on the people. Many writers of the 20th Century began to study and contemplate seriously over the writings of Karl Marx, Engles, Ruskin, Morris etc. and  discuss practical suggestions for the reconstruction of society. The 20th Century literature is full of experimentation and adventures peculiar to the modern age—an age of transition and discovery.

7.1. Modern Poetry

Modern poetry followed an entirely different tradition from the Romantic and Victorian tradition of poetry. The modern poets believed that the poet’s business was to be uniquely himself, and to project his personality through the medium of his art. Poetry to them was a method of discovering one’s self, and then a means of projecting this discovery.

T. S. Eliot is the chief representative of modern poetry. A greatest poet as well as a critic, he reinforced his political theories by his own poetry, and thus exerted a tremendous influence on modern poetry. His most famous poems include The Waste Land , The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Dry Salvages, East Coker, and Little Gidding . Other famous modern poets are Robert Bridges, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Houseman, Wilfred Owen, W. B. Yeats and others.

7.2. Modern Drama

Drama in England suffered a decline for about two centuries after the death of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. It was revived, however, in the last decade of the 19th Century. The two important dramatists who took a significant part in the revival of drama were the Irish men— George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde . Shaw practiced the Comedy of Idea , whereas Wilde practiced the new Comedy of Manners . Shaw, a great thinker, represented the Puritan side of the Anglo-Irish tradition. Wilde, on the other hand, was fond of a luxurious life. He was not a deep thinker as Shaw was and his attitude to life was essentially a playful and entertaining one. 

Besides the comedy of manners and ideas, another type of drama evolved in England under the influence of the Irish Dramatic Movement. Its originators were Lady Gregory  and W. B. Yeats. The two important dramatists of this movement were J. M. Synge and Sean O’ Casey. Other famous modern dramatists include Harold Pinter, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, J. M. Berrie, and Harley Granville-Barker. 

7.3. Modern Novel

The modern novel is realistic as well as psychological. The Modern novelists had introduced into the novel subtle points of view, reserved and refined characters, and intangible delicacies of motive. All these had never been attempted before by any English novelist. The modern novelist in their works employed the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique. This technique not only helped them to reveal the character completely and present development in character. Besides being realistic and psychological, the modern novelists were quite frank with sexual matters. 

The modern novelists who dominated the earlier part of the 20th Century were H. G. Bells, Arnold Bennett, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, John Galsworthy and E. M. Foster. From the beginning of World War I new experiments were made in the field of literature on account of the new forces which resulted from war and broke the old tradition. The writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Adlous Huxley, D. H. Laurence, and Somerset Maugham made the greatest contribution to this century. 

8. The Contemporary Period (1945–Today)

After World War II, new trends appeared in English literature. Although poetry was the most memorable form to come out of World War I, the novel was the form which told the stories of World War II. This was because mass media, cinema, newspapers, and radio had changed the way of information and entertainment. There were many writers who wrote about war. For instance, Henry Greene’s novels— Nothing (1950), The End of Affair (1951), and A Burnt-out Case (1961) deal with war. These novels explore regions of human unhappiness  in many different areas of the world.

Then came Samuel Beckett, best known for his plays, who described interior feelings of lonely souls in his works. In this regard came his novels Murphy (1938) and How It Is (1961) . Similarly, the novels of George Orwell also possess political intention. As a socialist, Orwell believed in equality. His famous works are Animal Farm (1945) , and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) . 

8.1. The Novel from 1950s and 1960s

Certainly, each decade in the history of English literature introduced different ways of writing. In the 1950s, a new generation of writers appeared, with new subjects and issues. These writers include Colin Wilson, John Wain, Alan Sillitoe, Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, William Golding and others. The most successful comic novel of the 1950s was Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954). It was, in fact, one of the first novels to have a university setting.  

William Golding was one of the great story-tellers of his time. He always explored in his novels the things which form human behavior. His famous novels are Lord of the Flies (1954) and The Inheritors (1955) . From the 1970s, the novel took several directions. The four main directions were:

  • the focus on foreign and local regional voices.
  • the focus on more female voices. 
  • the academic or campus novel.
  • the coming of the kind of fantasy known as Magic Realism.

Thus, British literature of the contemporary period mainly includes reality-based stories having strong characters and realistic themes. The Settings of contemporary novels are usually the current or modern era. In their novels and poetry, the contemporary writers deal with such themes as war, racism, identity, family, home, and a search for goodness in humanity.

For this article, I consulted the following books: 

  • Andrew Sanders’s The Short Oxford History of English Literature
  • Robert Barnard’s A Short History of English Literature 
  • Stephen Coote’s The Penguin Short History of English Literature 

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Thank you Elif notes. It’s indeed a great help by getting all the detailed informations of history of English literature so comprehensively which a student, teacher and lover of English literature will truly wish to know. Waiting to get some more like this relating to various genres of the same along with information about the authors and creators of great milestones of English literature. Thank you once again.

honestly, elif notes. this is so so so welll put. i loved reading it. i love how it’s in order and how it made something like this so easy. thankyou so much. a feedback: if you could please add more details on the history of periods and what followed next, it would be the perfect thing all in all. one would not require going to some other site for detailed description. thankyou <3

Thank you Elif notes. It could help me brush up. In short most of the major developments in the history of English literature are covered.

This was very helpful. Thank you.

Thank you for the comprehensive account of English literature. It was indeed helpful for my course of study.

Wonderful! It is really helpful to the all learners and teachers of English literature . Excellent piece of work. Thank you Eliff Notes.

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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

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A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

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When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

Introduction

Definition of introduction.

An introduction, or introductory paragraph, falls in the start of an essay . It is the first paragraph, which is also called “a gateway” of an essay. It is because it attracts the attention of readers to the essay and gives them background information about the topic.  It also introduces the thesis statement of the essay, which is the heart of an essay, and tells what is to be discussed in the body paragraphs .

However, some essay writers and professors suggest that the thesis should not come at the end, but should fall at the start of the introduction. Most of the academicians agree that a thesis statement should fall at the end of the introduction.

Elements of an Introduction

Generally, an introduction has four integral elements which come in a sequence, one after the other. They are as given below:

  • Hook or attention grabber
  • Background Information
  • Thesis statement

Hook : A hook is the first sentence of an introduction. It is also called an “attention grabber.” As the name suggests, it is intended to hook readers, or grab their attention. It therefore must be attractive, charming, and readable to encourage readers read the entire piece. A hook could be a good quote, a good verse , or a good incident, anecdote , or an event.

Background Information : Background information takes most of the space in an introduction. It normally comes after the hook, which is just as single sentence. However, background information in a short essay could take three to four sentences, and more in a long essay. Its purpose is to introduce the readers to the background of the topic, so that they should be able to expect what is to come next and then read it.

Connect : This is just a short sentence which connects the background information with the thesis statement. It is often missed in short essays, where background information is directly connected with the thesis statement. However, in longer essays, it is a short sentence that starts with a transition , and connects the background information with the thesis statement. Its purpose is to let the readers connect with the major themes of the essay.

Thesis Statement : This element comes directly after the connect, and is often called the heart, core, or central point of the essay. Without a thesis statement, an essay cannot be called a good essay, as it misses its thesis or central point of argument . In a five-paragraph essay, the thesis statement should comprise a single sentence, with three points of evidence that are discussed in body paragraphs. However, in longer essays, it could be longer. It could be two or three sentences, with each sentence having two or three evidences and a counterargument.

Types of Introduction

There are several types of introduction based on the elements given above. Some writers, however, suggest writing a thesis statement at the beginning, while others suggest to write it at the end. The most common practice is to write it at the end.

Based on this practice, there could be two types of introduction. The first is a direct introduction in which the thesis statement comes first, and gives background information later. The second is an indirect instruction in which the thesis statement comes later, the background information being presented first. Therefore, it is always the indirect introduction which proves effective in an essay.

Function of Introduction

The major purpose of an introduction is to make readers feel that they are going to read about something. As it has four integral points, they all play an important role in making readers feel that he is going through a well-organized piece. For example, the job of a hook is to attract the attention of readers, while background information provides further information about the topic discussed in the essay. It educates readers about what is to be discussed.

The connect joins the background information with the thesis statement. The thesis statement informs readers about what comes next, and what angle the essay is going to take. Although a reader only knows the evidences to be discussed, he has a fair idea of what is going to be discussed and how. In other words, an introduction levels the ground before the real essay begins.

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MINI REVIEW article

The brief introduction to organizational citizenship behaviors and counterproductive work behaviors: a literature review.

Qianqian Fan,

  • 1 Faculty of Business and Communications, INTI International University, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia
  • 2 International Education College, Hebei Finance University, Baoding, China
  • 3 Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Quantity Surveying, INTI International University, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

This paper presents a literature review on the topic of organizational performance. The study conceptualizes the overall performance of the organization as comprising of organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB) and counterproductive work behaviors (CWB). While there are numerous research studies on OCB, not many have focused on how OCB and CWB affect organizational performance simultaneously. The paper provides an explanation of the OCB and CWB concepts, followed by the primary research and focus of the study. The article presents a comprehensive framework for understanding the meanings of OCB and CWB, along with an internal hierarchy. This framework will serve as a beneficial resource for working managers, academics, and researchers, who seek to optimize economic productivity through improved understanding and management of OCB and CWB.

Introduction

Employees play a direct or indirect role in numerous factors that affect the operational results of an organization, by “shaping the organizational, social, and psychological context that serves as the catalyst for task activities and processes.” This behavior is referred to by some scholars as Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB) or Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB), both of which have been the subject of numerous psychological and management studies ( Shah et al., 2022 ). According to these scholars, OCB is associated with an ethical organizational working environment and corporate sustainability performance ( Fein et al., 2023 ). In contrast, CWB represents intentionally destructive conduct aimed at harming an organization’s legitimate interests ( Lee, 2020 ). In previous research, many scholars have explained employee behaviors using Blau’s (1964) social exchange theory and the theory of Person-Organization Fit (POF) ( Kristof-Brown et al., 2005 ). The former elucidates the interaction among attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors, interpreting employee behaviors as a two-way communication between the individual and the organization ( Yıldız et al., 2015 ). The latter serves as a predictor of certain positive behaviors (e.g., OCB) and negative behaviors (e.g., CWB). In studying constructive workplace behaviors, researchers have distinguished between OCB and CCB (Compulsory Citizenship Behaviors). They have also identified the differential effects of various antecedents, including equity sensitivity, Chinese tradition, and job stress ( Yildiz et al., 2023 ). In research on destructive deviant workplace behaviors, these behaviors have been labeled with various terms that share similar meanings, such as counterproductive workplace behaviors (CWB) ( Yıldız et al., 2015 ). Furthermore, Yıldız and Alpkan (2015) proposed a comprehensive model to analyze these destructive deviant workplace behaviors. They also introduced individual and organizational antecedents of negative behaviors, including POF, careerism, participative decision-making, and alienation. Current findings suggest that the more positive an employee’s perceptions are of OCB, the less likely they are to engage in negative behavior. Most recent research in this field supports these findings ( Hossein and Somayeh, 2018 ; Jiang et al., 2022 ; Fein et al., 2023 ). These behaviors are shaped by the intent and direction of targeted actions ( Neuhoff, 2020 ).

The definition of OCB and CWB

The concept of OCB was formally recognized by Organ (1988) , who introduced it as a variable that could enhance organizational effectiveness ( Yow, 2017 ). It should be noted that while there is a concept similar to OCB, its nature is distinct: Compulsory Citizenship Behaviors (CCBs). CCBs refer to involuntary extra-role behaviors that arise under external pressure, not from the individual’s genuine goodwill. According to existing literature, various positive organizational and managerial factors can positively influence OCB. However, these factors may inadvertently pressurize employees, compelling them to display what appears to be OCB, but is in fact imposed. Such behaviors are termed as CCBs ( Yildiz et al., 2023 ). In another study, Yildiz et al. (2022) examined the CCBs, anger, and moral disengagement levels of nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that when nurses are subjected to CCBs, they might harbor feelings of resentment toward the organization. This can drain employees’ positive energy and resources, and potentially compromise their moral decision-making mechanisms. In essence, imposing extra behaviors upon employees without their genuine willingness can be more detrimental than beneficial to organizations.

Another concept, akin to OCB and gaining traction in recent organizational behavior studies, is Constructive Deviant Workplace Behaviors (CDWB). While both are similar in that they exceed typical role expectations, OCB has a more passive nature, necessitating employees’ adherence to organizational and managerial norms and rules. In contrast, constructive deviance demands proactive actions from employees that may contravene norms. This suggests that employees exhibiting constructive deviance tend to be more risk-prone than their peers ( Yildiz et al., 2015 ).

The above comparison helps clarify the characteristics of OCB. According to existing literature, OCB has been defined from a variety of perspectives ( Suprapty Hidar et al., 2023 ). However, after reviewing these definitions, most scholars agree that OCB represents behaviors demonstrated by employees which, although not required for their current task or role, contribute to the organization’s operations and growth ( Al-Ahmadi and Mahran, 2021 ). Examples of OCB in the workplace may include assisting coworkers and initiating improvement measures. Consequently, understanding why employees engage in OCB is both necessary and insightful. Educators have positive perceptions of organizational citizenship, with behaviors including suggesting improvements for the university, voluntarily assisting new lecturers, and dedicating their personal time to enhance the performance of their students and the university ( Khalid et al., 2021 ; Bastian and Widodo, 2022 ).

On the other hand, CWB refers to actions that can be detrimental to an organization or its members. This type of behavior has garnered increasing attention from scholars and managers due to its potential negative impacts on businesses ( Reizer et al., 2020 ). Some scholars adopts the psychological contract theory to explain the relationship between workplace ostracism and employees’ CWB in the tourism industry of China, found that understanding the effects for employees who are working in a cultural context that attributes high value on relationships and implicit psychological contracts ( Li and Khattak, 2023 ). It is important to emphasize the defining characteristics of CWB: it is goal-oriented, as employees intentionally partake in harmful behavior ( Akbari et al., 2022 ). As such, the repercussions of this behavior can significantly affect a wide range of stakeholders, including employees, coworkers, customers, and others.

Reasons for research OCB and CWB

Why are scholars so interested in studying OCB and CWB? There are two primary reasons. First, both OCB and CWB fall under a broad definition of work performance that extends beyond assigned tasks ( Neale, 2019 ). When assessing an employee’s performance, managers take these behaviors into account. Second, both OCB and CWB influence individual and organizational effectiveness and productivity ( Susnienė et al., 2021 ). OCB is typically associated with positive outcomes such as improving coworker/managerial activities, efficient utilization of resources, employee retainment, while CWB is generally linked to negative outcomes like theft; destruction of property; sabotage; misuse of information, time and resources ( Shah et al., 2022 ). At present, much interest has recently been paid to employee extra-role work behaviors (i.e., OCB, CWB) that are outside the technical core (i.e., task performance) but “shape the organizational, social, and psychological context that catalyzes task activities and processes” ( Macias et al., 2023 ).

Some researchers have sought to more comprehensively explain the origins of OCB and its impact on organizational development. Some hypothesize that OCB leads to improved organizational performance and outcomes ( Romi et al., 2019 ). Numerous studies have tied perceptions of unfair treatment to CWB actions, such as Siswanti et al.'s (2020) study, which employed organizational fairness theory and leader-member exchange theory to elucidate the connection. Just like Fein et al. (2023) study, who found that both OCB and CWB can be consequent behaviors following perceptions of distributive organizational injustice perceived as inequity.

According to Liu et al. (2023) , employees’ turnover intention is positively related to their subsequent CWB, and permanent workers are less likely to engage in CWB compared to temporary workers because of the former’s higher organizational affective commitment. As Talaeipashiri (2016) stated, aggression may occur within the organization and could be targeted at certain individuals or the organization as a whole. Thus, we can conclude that organizational CWBs refer to actions directed at the organization itself, such as theft or use of violence, whereas interpersonal CWBs refer to actions directed at individuals within the organization, such as rudeness toward coworkers.

Impact on the organization

Due to the importance of employee performance, OCB is crucial to an organization. Previous research has shown that organizations benefit from employee contributions that go above and beyond the formal job requirements, also known as OCB ( Organ, 2018 ). Scholars strive to explain the positive effects of OCB from a broader research perspective ( Vagner et al., 2022 ). For instance, OCB presents commitments that reasonable in nature and when totaled after some time and people, may upgrade the execution by greasing up the building the mental texture of the association, decreasing erosion, and/or expanding productivity ( Guntuku et al., 2020 ). Furthermore, some scholar’s studies have highlighted the relationship between OCB and employee, they found that OCB has a significant and negative impact on intention to leave. When an employee has performed better OCB, it will lead to a lower intention to leave the organization ( Abror et al., 2020 ).

The majority of CWBs involve proactive actions that intentionally or voluntarily harm an organization and its stakeholders, such as clients, colleagues, and supervisors ( Liu et al., 2023 ). CWBs specifically include intentionally failing to perform work duties properly, engaging in workplace deviance, or engaging in behaviors that violate organizational policies and procedures ( Mert, 2023 ). The most critical aspect of CWB is that they must be intentional and purposeful, not accidental ( Kraak et al., 2023 ). Thus, when a worker chooses and engages in such harmful behavior, they do so with a conscious intent.

Actually, CWB are generally assimilated to “arbitrary behaviors performed by employees that overshadow the accepted norms of the organization and might then inflict pernicious shocks on the body of the organization and lead to extensive economic and psychological losses” ( Akbari et al., 2022 ). It can be seen as a mechanism for employees to engage in deliberate behavior to restore perceived fairness in their transactions with the organization (“I am not paid enough, so I will work less”). According to researcher’s study, CWB is prevalent in the workplace and is regarded as one of the most pressing challenges encountering current organizations, costing them billions annually ( Macias et al., 2023 ).

Behavioral manifestations of OCB

OCBs are defined as “individual behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system and promotes the effective functioning of the organization as a whole” ( Organ, 1988 ; Fein et al., 2023 ). A multitude of strategic Human Resource Management issues—such as talent management, employee engagement, organizational climate, organizational effectiveness, turnover intentions, and organizational commitment—are intricately connected with human behavior-related psychological issues ( Ren et al., 2023 ). Among all of these antecedents HRM practices play the most vital and challenging role in enhancing employees OCB ( Sultana and Johari, 2023 ). As a result, organizations are keen to maintain industrial harmony through the identification of sociable behavioral skills, underscoring the practical relevance of this research.

Simultaneously, the growing interest in the study of OCB indicates that even positive behaviors can lead to negative outcomes. Several studies suggest that organizational citizenship behavior can be time-consuming ( Reizer et al., 2020 ), potentially distracting workers from their core tasks and leading to employee burnout ( Klotz et al., 2018 ). Specifically, some researchers have proposed that attachment acts as a personality regulator in the relationship between OCB and Work-Family Facilitation (WFF) ( Reizer et al., 2020 ). Numerous studies show that attachment orientation can illuminate how individuals connect with others and foster healthy interpersonal relationships ( Gazder and Stanton, 2023 ). These orientations, which consider fundamental personality tendencies, provide a theoretical foundation and a set of empirically validated data in the social and personality domains, and personality traits have a significant impact on direct and indirect organizational citizenship behaviors for the environment ( Szostek, 2021 ).

In general, OCB is a crucial factor for organizational development ( Somech and Ohayon, 2019 ), contributing to the creation of a psychosocial work environment that supports the organization’s core activities ( Organ and Ryan, 1995 ). Regarding the direction and typology of OCB, several models have been developed since the construct’s inception ( Turner and Connelly, 2021 ).

In Organ’s (1988) research, he identified five different types of behavior to exemplify organizational citizenship behavior: altruism, conscientiousness, sportsmanship, courtesy, and civic virtue ( Atatsi et al., 2021 ).

Altruism entails discretionary assistance provided to peers or colleagues concerning job-related tasks, such as helping newcomers and freely dedicating time to others. While typically directed at individuals, it enhances group efficiency by improving individual performance ( Dipaola and Hoy, 2005 ). In essence, altruism is “a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare” ( Ma et al., 2018 ).

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness alludes to behavior that surpasses the minimal expected levels, like efficient time use and exceeding base expectations, thereby enhancing both personal and group efficiency ( DiPaola and Hoy, 2005 ). Notably, conscientiousness is among the Big Five personality traits, epitomizing diligence and self-discipline. It has been identified as a consistent predictor of academic achievement ( Icekson et al., 2020 ). Additionally, Abbas and Raja (2019) found conscientiousness to be the most influential predictor of problem-solving coping in response to stressors.

Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship is an individual’s capacity to endure suboptimal situations without complaints ( Lan, 2018 ), such as refraining from unnecessary grievances, thereby enhancing productive organizational time ( Dipaola and Hoy, 2005 ). Despite its importance, sportsmanship has garnered limited attention in academic literature. Organ’s definition appears narrower than the broader implications of the term. For instance, “good sports” not only tolerate inconveniences but also maintain positivity despite setbacks, do not take offense easily, sacrifice personal interests for collective good, and handle rejection gracefully ( Podsakoff et al., 2000 ). Puspitasari et al. (2023) suggest that sportsmanship enables teachers to tolerate imperfect organizational conditions without dissent. High sportsmanship fosters a positive climate, promoting collaboration and creating a harmonious work environment.

Courtesy is characterized as polite and thoughtful actions toward colleagues. Employees exhibiting courtesy consciously evade causing issues for others, thereby reducing managerial burdens and amplifying organizational performance ( Faajir et al., 2021 ). Such behavior is proactive, preventing issues rather than addressing existing problems ( Magdalena, 2014 ). Examples include giving advance notices and reminders, which helps avert issues and ensures productive time utilization ( Dipaola and Hoy, 2005 ). In essence, courtesy fosters positive relations among peers, crafting a conducive and amiable work setting ( Oamen, 2023 ).

Civic virtue

Civic virtue encompasses behaviors emphasizing participation in overarching organizational issues, like committee work and voluntary attendance at events, bolstering the organization’s interests ( Dipaola and Hoy, 2005 ). Robbins and Judge (2015) equate civic virtue with responsible behavior, which includes following organizational changes, suggesting improvements, and safeguarding organizational resources. Civic virtue implies that organizations empower employees to enhance their work quality ( Puspitasari et al., 2023 ). Broadly, it signifies an employee’s inclination to represent and elevate their organization’s image positively ( Oamen, 2023 ).

Contemporary literature explores other distinctions within OCB, although many of these dimensions are still applicable. In the early 1990s, researchers began differentiating between Organizational Citizenship Behavior—Individual (OCBI) and Organizational Citizenship Behavior—Organizational (OCBO) ( Smith et al., 1983 ). OCBIs involve helping behaviors directed toward other individuals (e.g., assisting a sick coworker), while OCBOs encompass actions directed at the entire organization, such as participating in a voluntary company fundraiser. Proponents of this perspective argue that OCBI and OCBO are distinct variables with unique antecedents and motivators and that they are associated with job satisfaction in different ways ( El-Kassar et al., 2021 ; Rahman and Karim, 2022 ).

Behavioral manifestations of CWB

The means and likelihood of employee retaliation-based behaviors as reactions to poor leadership and management have been noted extensively as behavioral manifestations of Counterproductive Work Behaviors (CWB) ( Fein et al., 2023 ). Individual CWBs refer to actions directed against individuals within the organization, while organizational CWBs refer to actions against the organization as a whole. The study of deviant workplace behavior by Robinson and Bennett (1995) provides evidence for this interpretation.

Several researchers have examined the connections between CWB and occupational stressors. Some researcher found that perceived increases in workload were positively related to increased exhaustion after work, psychosomatic symptoms, and to spillover effects at home, even after controlling for negative affect ( Rodríguez, 2019 ). The same as Lenz et al. (2023) study, whose research suggests that when exposed to stressors, individuals take longer breaks, or work slower than necessary (i.e., show CWB) as a strategy to avoid further resource loss. The work stress/mood/CWB model developed by Fox et al. (2001) suggests that CWB is an instinctive emotional response to workplace stressors. According to Spector and Jex (1998) , workplace stressors are understood to pose threats to health and to lead to negative emotional responses such as anger and anxiety. Furthermore, some scholars argue that job insecurity is associated with CWB behavior. Many organizations face restructuring and downsizing, especially in today’s uncertain and volatile economic climate, which can heighten employee anxiety and stress ( Pu et al., 2023 ).

Here is a comprehensive explanation of the five components of CWB. Mistreatment of others is considered individual counterproductive behavior (CWB), whereas deviant behavior, destructive behavior, withdrawal behavior, and theft are classified as organizational counterproductive behaviors (CWB).

Abuse against others

Abuse against others within an organization involves an individual’s behavior that is harmful to their coworkers ( Bal, 2021 ). These behaviors can inflict physical harm, such as humiliation, contempt, insulting remarks, or intimidation, or psychological harm, such as neglect and hindering effective work. Simultaneously, it should be stressed that since direct and overt physical violence is rare within organizations, many researchers focus on non-violent behaviors. The concept of abuse in this context is closely related to notions of incivility, emotional abuse, workplace bullying, and psychological siege, as outlined in the relevant literature. In other words, within the context and scope of CWB research, the study focuses on individuals who engage in these actions ( To and Huang, 2022 ).

Production deviance

The component of production deviance includes behaviors such as not deliberately and properly performing the tasks in the job description of the employee, making mistakes, performing poorly, slowing down and obeying the instructions ( Bal, 2021 ). A summation of items reflecting “interpersonal and organizational deviance” should indicate the participation levels of each form of deviance ( Fleming et al., 2022 ). Early work in CWB focused on what was characterized as employee deviance, falling into categories of product deviance, property deviance, political divisions, and personal aggression; while deviance has been characterized as “violating behaviors,” which are those that benefit self, those that benefit the organization in an unethical manner, or destruction to exact revenge ( Allen, 2023 ).

Sabotage involves the intentional and deliberate destruction (such as arson or property damage) or damage of organizational assets (like equipment) by employees in an effort to reduce productivity ( Spector et al., 2006 ; Kim and Jo, 2022 ). This vandalism can be traced back to the machine destruction during the workers’ movement following the Industrial Revolution, and can be seen as an extension or derivation of that act. In some studies, destructive behavior is interpreted from a broader perspective and is considered as negative behaviors based on employees’ personal interests, such as damaging organizational functions, disrupting or altering organizational order, creating and spreading negative rumors within the organization, slowing production, or harming customers and employees ( Skarlicki et al., 2008 ; Szostek, 2022 ). Several factors contributing to the emergence of destructive behavior include anger or hostility, responses to unfairness, the desire for personal gain, resistance to organizational change, and the need for approval from coworkers ( Wiseman and Stillwell, 2022 ).

Withdrawal includes reduce the working time below the minimum necessary to achieve the goals (for example, extending breaks, unjustified dismissals). Different from other forms of CWB, the employees engaged in withdrawal were characterized by a lower level of emotional exhaustion ( Szostek et al., 2020 ). Withdrawal is behavior where an employee attempts to avoid a situation rather than harming the organization and its members thus, this type of behavior is used as a passive way to influence the organization by withholding effort usually used to produce for the organization. At the same time, looking at the description of production deviance there is a noticeable similarity between the categories, but as previously stated, withdrawal is more passive in that it involves withdrawing effort systematically ( Van der Westhuizen, 2019 ).

Employees commit theft with the intention to harm organizations or individuals ( Sackett et al., 2006 ). It is a form of instrumental aggression (mainly toward the organization) motivated by the will to: obtain approval, help colleagues, equalize conditions and protect oneself in case of harmful actions of superiors ( Szostek, 2022 ). Many employees may view theft from the organization as non-aggressive due to financial needs, dissatisfaction with the job, or a sense of being treated unfairly ( Bal, 2021 ). In these instances, employees do not intend to use or sell the stolen items but aim to harm the organization’s economic interests.

The influencing factors of OCB and CWB

An individual’s inherent and immutable personality has a more stable and lasting impact on OCB/CWB ( Aspan et al., 2019 ). Previous research has elaborated on why intrinsic motivation theory can influence employees’ propensity to engage in civic behavior. Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal factor of employee self-satisfaction ( Runge et al., 2020 ; Schattke and Marion-Jetten, 2022 ). Since OCBs are less likely to be formally rewarded than prescribed work behaviors, they are most likely to be driven by internal incentive channels ( Dermawan and Handayani, 2019 ; Ren et al., 2022 ).

Personality traits can influence how individuals perceive and respond to diverse motivations ( Clark, 2010 ; Reizer et al., 2020 ). According to Neale’s (2019) study, the findings suggest that that the intentionality behind job crafting behaviors is predicted differentially by individual needs as well as personality traits (the dark triad and conscientiousness). Bright job crafting is more associated with engagement in OCBs while dark job crafting is more associated with engagement in CWBs. Related research demonstrates that organizational commitment is the most influential factor affecting OCB. High organizational commitment is related to high OCB and employee performance, low absence rates, and fewer delays ( Nurjanah et al., 2020 ).

Furthermore, it is believed that organizational commitment is positively related to perceived organizational support. When employees feel respected and supported for their roles, organizational commitment increases ( Lambert et al., 2017 ). This bond can be strengthened in numerous ways. Leadership has a significant effect on the perception of organizational support ( Wang et al., 2021 ). Specifically, Delegach et al. (2017) found that transformational leadership is positively associated with organizational commitment, whereas transactional leadership is positively associated with commitments to safety and the organization’s mission. Given the strong emphasis on transformational leadership practices in encouraging OCBs, these findings are intriguing. It’s possible that organizational commitment may increase if transactional leaders are better equipped to instill organizational values in employees.

Some scholars believe that job autonomy may have positive effects on organizational performance. Job autonomy is defined as the extent to which the job offers employees the freedom to make choices about what, when, and how they perform their work. Greater job autonomy reduces limitations from other job factors and improves individuals’ job performance ( Matteson et al., 2021 ). These contradictory findings and a contingency perspective suggest that the relationships between job autonomy, OCB, and organizational performance may depend on organizational circumstances ( Park, 2018 ).

From the comprehensive literature review, we observe various research perspectives and conclusions on deviant behaviors. In studying constructive and destructive deviant workplace behaviors, scholars have refined a general classification of workplace deviance. Using precise definitions of terms, they have analyzed antecedent factors, constructed various models or frameworks, and proposed feasible measures. This literature review aids in further summarizing the relevant content concerning OCB and CWB.

In this paper, previous scholars’ conclusions shed light on the propositions. In general, this paper provides a succinct overview of previous research on deviant behaviors, with a particular focus on OCB and CWB as well as their various aspects. It discusses personality, organizational commitment and job autonomy, three concepts intrinsically related to OCB/CWB, and how they function. This section underscores the impact that CWB and OCB have on organizational performance. Each aspect of CWB and OCB is also detailed within this study for relevance. The literature review offered above allows us to envision an optimal portrayal of organizational performance, and this theoretical framework can be beneficial in terms of practitioners and researchers. Within organizations, employees should exert additional effort and be open to adopting new work methods, while leaders should provide comprehensive support, effectively implement employees’ suggestions, set high standards, and commit more resources and energy to work-related matters rather than traditional management and rigid control. Given sufficient trust, employees are more likely to engage in cooperative behaviors, such as assisting coworkers and performing actions that benefit the group. Consequently, the costs associated with hiring, selecting, and integrating new coworkers should be reduced. Although this is not an empirical paper, the compilation of previous research findings constitutes a significant contribution to guiding managerial actions in organizations. This paper can serve as a guide for organizations seeking to improve their employees’ organizational performance and curtail the occurrence of negative behaviors.

The limitations of this paper are manifold. While the primary focus was on OCB and CWB, the intricate relationships among OCB, CWB, and deviant workplace behaviors were not fully explored. Moreover, the study centered on just three determinants: personality, organizational commitment, and job autonomy, assessing their influence on OCB/CWB. Future studies might consider a broader range of individual, task, and organizational antecedents and delve into potential indirect effects, such as moderator impacts, on OCB and CWB. Furthermore, this research did not narrow down to specific industries or professions, suggesting that subsequent research, when tailored to distinct sectors or job roles, might yield recommendations with heightened relevance and applicability.

Author contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: organizational performance, organizational citizenship behavior, counterproductive work behavior, economic productivity, influencing factors

Citation: Fan Q, Wider W and Chan CK (2023) The brief introduction to organizational citizenship behaviors and counterproductive work behaviors: a literature review. Front. Psychol . 14:1181930. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1181930

Received: 08 March 2023; Accepted: 29 August 2023; Published: 13 September 2023.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2023 Fan, Wider and Chan. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Walton Wider, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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    The brief introduction to organizational citizenship behaviors and counterproductive work behaviors: a literature review Qianqian Fan 1,2 Walton Wider 1 * Choon Kit Chan 3 1 Faculty of Business and Communications, INTI International University, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia