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What Is a Literature Review?
The purpose of a literature review is to synthesize and critically analyze the state of the research on a topic.
You may be asked to conduct a literature review for a class simply to understand a topic better. Class assignments are usually smaller in scope and length than reviews for a dissertation or a research article.
Writing a Literature Review
Searching for Sources
- Start with reference resources to see the big picture and contextualize your topic, introduce you to important authors, and provide vocabulary and ideas you'll need to know.
- Enter key concepts in a disciplinary database, and then scan through results, noting additional or alternate keywords, areas of potential interest, and sub-topics. Keep working, adapting your searching as you go.
- Trace citations, using the citations of a source to find other relevant sources and to understand the relationships between them. The two best tools for tracing citations are Google Scholar and Web of Science. Once you find your source in these databases, look for links to citing articles.
There are a few signifiers of quality and importance that you will want to consider in selecting the sources that appear in your literature review.
- Author impact: How many times has a study been cited by other researchers?
- Core publications: What are the most noteworthy journals in your field of study?
- Currency: How does your discipline view the currency of research?
- Bias: Be aware of your own possible biases and try to treat research even-handedly.
Make note of the sub-topics that you find and discover the relationships among them. Tools like concept maps or synthesis matrixes may be helpful in identifying and keeping track of these relationships.
Whichever note taking method you choose, be sure to distinguish your ideas and words from the original source material. Keep track of any quoted material, where it was found, and its bibliographic information, by the particular citation style you are using.
Conducting Your Literature Review by
Publication Date: 2019
A step-by-step guide to writing a literature review, including tips for modifying the process as needed depending on your audience, purpose, and goals.
So, You Have to Write a Literature Review by
Publication Date: 2020
Presents a dynamic and practical method in which engineering students can learn to write literature reviews, and translate genre-based writing instruction into easy-to-follow, bite-sized activities and content.
Academic Skills for Interdisciplinary Studies by
Publication Date: 2017
Offers practical instructions, tips, and tricks that help undergraduate students to develop the skills needed for an interdisciplinary curriculum, including a section on interdisciplinary research and literature reviews.
Our research guides are the best place to start your research in by discipline. Each subject guide suggests the most relevant disciplinary databases for that field of study.
Keep in mind that there is no guarantee as to the quality of the scholarship in Google Scholar, so be sure to evaluate the materials you use.
Web of Science This link opens in a new window
Materials that are indexed in Web of Science are of high quality, but not all disciplines are equally represented.
This video from Penn State Libraries explains how to use a concept map to classify ideas, themes, contradictions, and gaps.
This video from California State University Monterey Bay Library shows how to create a synthesis table (sometimes called a synthesis matrix) to organize and connect information from your sources.