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Literature Review: What is a Literature Review?

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When conducting a literature review a researcher must have three quite distinct skills. He or she must be

  • adept at searching online databases and print indexes.
  • able to evaluate critically what has been read.
  • able to incorporate the selected readings into a coherent, integrated, meaningful account.

Portions of this LibGuide have been borrowed from LibGuides at the following colleges and universities:

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review surveys published information (books, scholarly articles, and other documents) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory.  The "literature" of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic.

Sometimes a literature review is a brief summary of those sources, but more commonly it is a summary and a synthesis. A synthesis can be a reorganization of the information to provide a new interpretation, make comparisons between old and new information, or track the intellectual progression of an idea or concept. A literature review can also provide an evaluation of the sources in order to advise readers on their relevance or importance.

Here are a few types of Literature Reviews often used in undergraduate research:

  • Narrative Review: Describes what related research has already been conducted and how that research informs the thesis of the paper
  • Critical Review: Provides a more detailed examination of the literature that compares and evaluates a number of perspectives.
  • Conceptual Review: Groups literature according to concepts, or categories, or themes in order to provide a snapshot of where things are with a particular field of research.

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

Generally speaking, a literature provides an overview of the significant literature published on a topic. For researchers of all levels and disciplines, a literature review can:

  • Set up the starting point for research by summarizing, comparing, and evaluating existing sources in the area of interest.
  • Help understand the direction of the further research and areas worth focusing on.
  • Provide access to the most important information on a certain topic by picking out sources that are valid, meaningful, and relevant, summarizing them and turning them into a single concise report.
  • Help researchers not to duplicate work that has been done before.
  • Provide a detailed analysis of methods used in other researches.
  • Identify gaps and contradictions in existing sources and highlight the most important findings.
  • Identify current research in the field.
  • Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.

Some Tips on Recording the Information Found, on Taking Notes etc.:

  • It is sometimes sufficient to browse the text quickly. The introduction or conclusion often give a gist of the thesis and main points. Still, often a researcher must read much or all of a work, especially if it is of an authoritative or technical nature.
  • Begin with most recent studies and work backwards. A recent article’s list of references or bibliography might provide you with valuable works to consult.
  • If the report/article has an abstract, read it first.
  • Don’t trust your memory. Record all research. You'll never remember who said what if you neglect to take adequate notes!
  • Write down the complete citation for each work. Don't forget the page nos. for later use in the notes and bibliography. For Internet citations, note the URL.
  • Avoid "grandfather" citations. Return to original source.
  • Write all direct quotations precisely, word-for-word. Use quotation marks. Failure to put a direct text in quotes (or to credit the author) sets the stage for plagiarism.
  • Avoid copying too many direct quotations. Most of the review should be primarily in your own words with appropriate documentation of others’ ideas.
  • Do not stress just a single source or two. It is usually important in a literature review to provide evidence you consulted and used a wide range of resources.
  • For a contentious topic, present the opposing positions. Be objective. Do not overemphasize one side.