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The Literature Review

About the Literature Review

Woman readingImage source: Woman reading, by Christina @,  Permission by Unsplash license.

A literature review is one of the first things done by any student or scholar who plans to pursue new knowledge or do research in most subject areas.  It involves identifying, locating, and examining information and publications on a particular topic.  A literature review allows a student or scholar to integrate and synthesize information on a topic and use it to support their research or creations.  It complements some forms of lab research so that a scholar understands what is known about their topic before or as they do their own research.  Literature reviews may be done as an assignment or a required part of a thesis or dissertation.  They can also be included in a grant or funding proposal to give support of an idea, and are frequently used in evidence-based practice in various fields.

Here are the reasons for doing a literature review:

  1. A literature review establishes the background on what has already been researched on a topic.
  2. It shows why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  3. Students and scholars will discover relationships between ideas in the literature.
  4. A literature review helps students and scholars identify major themes and concepts within their topic.
  5. Knowing what has been published allows identification of critical gaps of knowledge and points of disagreement within a subject area.
  6. The literature review helps a scholar or student turn a network of articles into a coherent view of the literature.

A literature review is not:

A literature review can be very simple, where some articles, books or other information sources are identified, critiqued, and summarized.  It can also be very complex where its focus is very narrow or it condenses many information sources.  Regardless of its simplicity or complexity, it lays out a logical case to defend points or to come to conclusions on a given topic.

Student Learning Objectives

As a result of viewing this guide and taking its quiz, students will be able to do the following:

  • Distinguish scholarly or professional publications and other sources that are included in a literature review.
  • Compare different types of literature reviews and their purposes.
  • Describe some overall steps to take to begin and complete your literature review.
  • Identify sources of information for a literature review and what to consider for when to finish it.
  • Find assistance or sources of information that assist with further details of a literature review.

Originality statement:  Some of this content is from Guide to Science Information Sources (Research Guide) by K. Padron (2022) at  Additional content has been added, revised, and repurposed in this Research Guide.

Articles and Books in the Library