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Not merely summary, but is usually combined with synthesis
Often part of a research paper, but can be freestanding
Describes what is known and gaps in knowledge
Informs reader of existing scholarship and emphasizes your credibility
Draws connections between existing scholarship and looks at the big picture
Not inclusive of everything that has ever been written
Essentially, literature reviews involve finding and analyzing sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles, scholarly books, and other forms of information. Your subject area and the purpose of your literature review will determine how you approach it. Take this guide as a very general overview that you can apply within the parameters of what your discipline and purpose call for.
In the Disciplines
Literature reviews look different between disciplines. For example, a literature review in social sciences may include lots of data and statistics, but a review in the humanities might not. In the sciences, you may focus on more recent research from a narrow area, while in the humanities, the age of a source may not matter and you may consult more resources from lots of different disciplines. It's important to consider what a literature review should look like in your discipline. Talk to your professor, advisor, or editor for guidance. If this is for a class, you may need a certain number of sources or have to meet a particular word count that may determine what you include.
It may also be helpful to look at other literature reviews in your field as models. For a dissertation or thesis, look at a few other successful dissertations or theses from your program. For a review as part of a research article, look at other articles published in the journal and at the author instructions for that journal. For a standalone literature review, look at other review articles. We'll discuss how to find other review articles in the next tab.