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Albert S. Cook Library

Literature Reviews

This guide is designed to offer guidance for students conducting and writing literature reviews.

Types of Literature Reviews

Different projects involve different kinds of literature reviews with different methods and scope. And, of course, the end products can vary.

  • Honors paper
  • Capstone project
  • Research study
  • Senior thesis
  • Masters thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • Research article
  • Grant proposal
  • Evidence synthesis

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a structured review of the published literature on a specific topic or research question designed to analyze, not just summarize, scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. Your review critiques the literature that provides information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question. This guide is designed to be a general resource for those completing a literature review in their field.

What is Meant by a "Literature Review"?

The purpose of a literature review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.

Different types of reviews serve different purposes. Here is a short bibliography of readings about review types.

A Literature Review is NOT

Keep in mind that a literature review defines and sets the stage for your later research. While you may take the same steps in researching your literature review, your literature review is...

  • ...not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize each article that you have reviewed. A literature review goes beyond basic summarizing to focus on the critical analysis of the reviewed works and their relationship to your research question.
  • ...not a research paper where you select resources to support one side of an issue versus another. A literature review should explain and consider all sides of an argument in order to avoid bias. Areas of agreement and disagreement and future directions should be highlighted.

Why is a Literature Review Important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Helps focus your own research questions or problems
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
  • Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches.
  • Indicates potential directions for future research.