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Literature Reviews

Getting Started

What is a literature review?

  • Both a process and a product
    • Process: involves researching a topic to familiarize yourself with relevant research; identify key authors, arguments, and publications; and locate issues and gaps in the research
    • Product: a thoroughly-cited critical analysis that synthesizes what is currently known about a topic (both theories and study results), written as a narrative
  • Addresses aspects of a topic from various points of view
  • Can point out things like: overall trends; conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, conclusions; research gaps; new problems or perspectives
  • Your interpretation of what's been written on your topic
  • Narrative: it has an organizational scheme and combines both summary and synthesis
  • Does not add new contributions, but instead summarizes and synthesizes the arguments and ideas of others

What ISN'T a literature review?

  • An annotated bibliography
  • A book review
  • A literary review that critiques a specific work (such as a play or a short story)

Why do we do literature reviews?

  • To support your own research
  • To introduce readers to the current state of scholarship on your topic and highlight key people, publications, arguments, and ideas
  • To position your own work within your academic discipline

Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009)..A typology of reviews :an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies.Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91-108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

Knopf, J. (2006). Doing a literature review. PS: Political Science Politics, 39(1), 127-132.

McMenamin, I. (2006). Process and text: Teaching students to review the literature. PS: Political Science Politics, 39(1), 133-135.


While this video describes literature reviews as a section of a larger paper, many of the points it conveys are also applicable to literature reviews as a type of paper or publication.

Skills Needed

A literature review requires several skills:

  • The ability to search for and access publications on your research topic
  • Reading and analyzing sources on your topic
  • Evaluating data and publications to determine which literature makes a noteworthy contribution to the scholarship on your topic
  • Writing a coherent narrative that synthesizes the sources you found, read, and analyzed

Finding Published Examples

Go to a subject or multidisciplinary database and add "literature review" to your search terms (include the quote marks to search for the phrase), or try the following:

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