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Reference and Instruction Guide

What is a literature review

Definition: A literature review is an objective, critical summary of published research literature relevant to a topic under consideration for research. Its purpose is to create familiarity with current thinking and research on a particular topic, and may justify future research into a previously overlooked or understudied area.

A typical literature review consists of the following components:

  1. Introduction:
    • A concise definition of a topic under consideration (this may be a descriptive or argumentative thesis, or proposal), as well as the scope of the related literature being investigated. (Example: If the topic under consideration is ‘women’s wartime diaries’, the scope of the review may be limited to published or unpublished works, works in English, works from a particular location, time period, or conflict etc.)
    • The introduction should also note intentional exclusions. (Example: “This review will not explore the diaries of adolescent girls.”)
    • Another purpose of the introduction is to state the general findings of the review (what do most of the sources conclude), and comment on the availability of sources in the subject area.

  1. Main Body:
    • There are a number of ways to organize the evaluation of the sources. Chronological, thematic, and methodological approaches are each useful examples.
    • Synthesize: to synthesize is to combine two or more elements to form a new whole. In the literature review, the “elements” are the findings of the literature you gather and read; the “new whole” is the conclusion you draw from those findings. Your goal is to compare and contrast, critically evaluate, interpret, so that you can draw conclusion.
    • Each work should be critically summarized and evaluated for its premise, methodology, and conclusion.
    • Ask yourself the following questions in order to successfully analyze and synthesize your sources:
      • What are the key terms and concepts?
      • How relevant is this article to my specific topic?
      • What are the major relationships, trends and patterns?
      • How has the author structured the arguments?
      • How authoritative and credible is this source?
      • What are the differences and similarities between the sources?
      • Are there any gaps in the literature that require further study?
  • It is also important to address inconsistencies, omissions, gaps in research, and errors, as it is to identify accuracy, depth, and relevance.
  • Each body paragraph should deal with a different evaluation type (depending on your chosen organizational method) that is relevant to your topic. You will need to synthesize several of your reviewed readings into each paragraph, so that there is a clear connection between the various sources. You will need to critically analyze each source for how it contributes to the themes you are researching (see above questions).

The body could include paragraphs on

  • historical background
  • methodologies
  • previous studies on the topic
  • mainstream versus alternative viewpoints
  • principal questions being asked
  • general conclusions that are being drawn
  • Be sure to use logical connections and transitions to connect sources.

  1. Conclusion:
    • The conclusion summarizes the key findings of the review in general terms. Notable commonalities between works, whether favorable or not, may be included here.
    • This section is the reviewer’s opportunity to justify a research proposal. Therefore, the idea should be clearly re-stated and supported according to the findings of the review.

  1. References:
    • As well as accurate in-text citations, a literature review must contain complete and correct citations for every source.
    • Use quotes sparingly. Most literature reviews do not use direct quotes from the text.  Use short quotes if you need to once in a while, but do not quote large passages of text.  Your goal is to summarize in your own words the studies you have found that provide documentation of your position or serve as background.
    • Paraphrase with caution. Retell the ideas of others with caution being sure to watch that the ideas of others are presented as someone else's and your ideas are presented separately.

Retrieved from Toulouse Graduate School: How to Write a Literature Review - Handout

Literature Review Tutorial Videos


1- Writing the Literature Review: Step-by-Step Tutorial for Students

Part One:

Part Two:

2- How to write a literature review