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The Literature Review

The Literature Defined

A World of Publications and Information

Image:  World, by Yuri B. Permission by license.

Another definition of 'literature' includes scholarly or professional works available or published about a particular concept.  Although literature is commonly known to be fictional, creative works (e.g., Winnie-The-Pooh, by A.A. Milne), they are also publications that approach a concept with a scholarly, academic, or professional focus (e.g., journal article Conservation and management of the culture of bears, by C. Servheen and K. Gunther). 

The literature is literally a world of many types of publications and information!  You may need to find or use various types of sources or materials in your literature review which could include the following:

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Multimedia: videos, sound recordings, mixed media
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Data
  • Government Documents:  laws, committee reports, legislative actions
  • Standards and Guidelines
  • Materials and Artifacts

Requirements and Inclusion / Pre-Established Criteria

Although literature reviews are viewed as a main way to identify and synthesize what is known about a topic, they may lack thoroughness or objectivity which may have some effects:  a scholar may not have an accurate understanding of what is known, choose only sources that support their point of view, or execute a limited search for literature, each of which may lead them to undertake research built on flawed assumptions. 

To minimize these risks, some literature reviews may include requirements or inclusion / pre-established criteria that may be assigned by your professor or advisor.  You may also create inclusion or pre-established criteria to focus your search on studies with specific characteristics.


Some of you may be asked to follow requirements for the sources that can be used in your review.  Requirements may include the following:

  • Including a range of or a specific number of sources (include 5-8 sources).
  • Using only certain types of publications or materials (include only peer-reviewed journal articles).
  • Publication dates of works may be within a certain date range (publications must be within the last 5 years).
  • Focus on publications within a particular discipline (publications must be from health science or nursing journals).
  • Additional guidelines:  types of studies, methodology, etc. (publications must use qualitative research).

Be sure to ask your professor or see your requirements to identify which sources are acceptable. 

Inclusion or Pre-Established Criteria

Inclusion criteria, also known as pre-established criteria, formally define attributes of or types of studies to include in a literature review.  Literature reviews with more rigor, particularly a systematic review or meta-analysis, include pre-established criteria.  A student may be given these as an assignment requirement, or a scholar may select these before they start their review.  Inclusion criteria may include one or more of the following:

  • The subject or population that is being studied (adolescent males who participate in a high school team sport).
  • Topic of a study or experiment (changes in self-esteem and confidence in adolescent males before and after participating in a team sport).
  • Type of study and design (survey with open-ended questions).
  • Type of data collected (participants' survey responses)

In the example of teen males who participate in a team sport, a scholar will focus on finding sources that fall within those criteria.  The scholar may find similar studies that include other people, such as teen females or college-aged males, but these studies would not be included in the literature review because they do not fit the criteria.