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Literature Reviews

This guide will introduce you to how to conduct an effective literature review.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is:

  • Not an annotated bibliography
  • Places works in context
  • 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.

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