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Process: Literature Reviews

Literature Review

Decorative bookshelf

Does your assignment or publication require that you write a literature review? This guide is intended to help you understand what a literature is, why it is worth doing, and some quick tips composing one.

Understanding Literature Reviews

What is a literature review? 

Typically, a literature review is a written discussion that examines publications about  a particular subject area or topic. Depending on disciplines, publications, or authors a literature review may be: 

A summary of sources

An organized presentation of sources

A synthesis or interpretation of sources

An evaluative analysis of sources

A Literature Review may be part of a process or a product. It may be:

A part of your research process

A part of your final research publication

An independent publication


Why do a literature review?

The Literature Review will place your research in context. It will help you and your readers:  

Locate patterns, relationships, connections, agreements, disagreements, & gaps in understanding

Identify methodological and theoretical foundations

Identify landmark and exemplary works

Situate your voice in a broader conversation with other writers, thinkers, and scholars

The Literature Review will aid your research process. It will help you to:

Establish your knowledge

Understand what has been said

Define your questions

Establish a relevant methodology

Refine your voice

Situate your voice in the conversation


What does a literature review look like?

The Literature Review structure and organization may include sections such as:  

An introduction or overview

A body or organizational sub-divisions

A conclusion or an explanation of significance

The body of a literature review may be organized in several ways, including:

Chronologically: organized by date of publication

Methodologically: organized by type of research method used

Thematically: organized by concept, trend, or theme

Ideologically: organized by belief, ideology, or school of thought


Mountain Top By Alice Noir for the Noun ProjectTip:  Many of us start with a very broad question in mind. Try these steps to narrow:

  • Find a focus
  • Find models
  • Review your target publication
  • Track citations
  • Read critically
  • Manage your citations
  • Ask friends, faculty, and librarians

 Mountains by Alice Noir from the Noun Project