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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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Why is it important to do a literature review in research?

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 “A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a precondition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research”. Boote and Baile 2005

Authors of manuscripts treat writing a literature review as a routine work or a mere formality. But a seasoned one knows the purpose and importance of a well-written literature review.  Since it is one of the basic needs for researches at any level, they have to be done vigilantly. Only then the reader will know that the basics of research have not been neglected.

Importance of Literature Review In Research

The aim of any literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of existing knowledge in a particular field without adding any new contributions.   Being built on existing knowledge they help the researcher to even turn the wheels of the topic of research.  It is possible only with profound knowledge of what is wrong in the existing findings in detail to overpower them.  For other researches, the literature review gives the direction to be headed for its success. 

The common perception of literature review and reality:

As per the common belief, literature reviews are only a summary of the sources related to the research. And many authors of scientific manuscripts believe that they are only surveys of what are the researches are done on the chosen topic.  But on the contrary, it uses published information from pertinent and relevant sources like

  • Scholarly books
  • Scientific papers
  • Latest studies in the field
  • Established school of thoughts
  • Relevant articles from renowned scientific journals

and many more for a field of study or theory or a particular problem to do the following:

  • Summarize into a brief account of all information
  • Synthesize the information by restructuring and reorganizing
  • Critical evaluation of a concept or a school of thought or ideas
  • Familiarize the authors to the extent of knowledge in the particular field
  • Encapsulate
  • Compare & contrast

By doing the above on the relevant information, it provides the reader of the scientific manuscript with the following for a better understanding of it:

  • It establishes the authors’  in-depth understanding and knowledge of their field subject
  • It gives the background of the research
  • Portrays the scientific manuscript plan of examining the research result
  • Illuminates on how the knowledge has changed within the field
  • Highlights what has already been done in a particular field
  • Information of the generally accepted facts, emerging and current state of the topic of research
  • Identifies the research gap that is still unexplored or under-researched fields
  • Demonstrates how the research fits within a larger field of study
  • Provides an overview of the sources explored during the research of a particular topic

Importance of literature review in research:

The importance of literature review in scientific manuscripts can be condensed into an analytical feature to enable the multifold reach of its significance.  It adds value to the legitimacy of the research in many ways:

  • Provides the interpretation of existing literature in light of updated developments in the field to help in establishing the consistency in knowledge and relevancy of existing materials
  • It helps in calculating the impact of the latest information in the field by mapping their progress of knowledge.
  • It brings out the dialects of contradictions between various thoughts within the field to establish facts
  • The research gaps scrutinized initially are further explored to establish the latest facts of theories to add value to the field
  • Indicates the current research place in the schema of a particular field
  • Provides information for relevancy and coherency to check the research
  • Apart from elucidating the continuance of knowledge, it also points out areas that require further investigation and thus aid as a starting point of any future research
  • Justifies the research and sets up the research question
  • Sets up a theoretical framework comprising the concepts and theories of the research upon which its success can be judged
  • Helps to adopt a more appropriate methodology for the research by examining the strengths and weaknesses of existing research in the same field
  • Increases the significance of the results by comparing it with the existing literature
  • Provides a point of reference by writing the findings in the scientific manuscript
  • Helps to get the due credit from the audience for having done the fact-finding and fact-checking mission in the scientific manuscripts
  • The more the reference of relevant sources of it could increase more of its trustworthiness with the readers
  • Helps to prevent plagiarism by tailoring and uniquely tweaking the scientific manuscript not to repeat other’s original idea
  • By preventing plagiarism , it saves the scientific manuscript from rejection and thus also saves a lot of time and money
  • Helps to evaluate, condense and synthesize gist in the author’s own words to sharpen the research focus
  • Helps to compare and contrast to  show the originality and uniqueness of the research than that of the existing other researches
  • Rationalizes the need for conducting the particular research in a specified field
  • Helps to collect data accurately for allowing any new methodology of research than the existing ones
  • Enables the readers of the manuscript to answer the following questions of its readers for its better chances for publication
  • What do the researchers know?
  • What do they not know?
  • Is the scientific manuscript reliable and trustworthy?
  • What are the knowledge gaps of the researcher?

22. It helps the readers to identify the following for further reading of the scientific manuscript:

  • What has been already established, discredited and accepted in the particular field of research
  • Areas of controversy and conflicts among different schools of thought
  • Unsolved problems and issues in the connected field of research
  • The emerging trends and approaches
  • How the research extends, builds upon and leaves behind from the previous research

A profound literature review with many relevant sources of reference will enhance the chances of the scientific manuscript publication in renowned and reputed scientific journals .

References:

http://www.math.montana.edu/jobo/phdprep/phd6.pdf

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What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

4-minute read

  • 23rd October 2023

If you’re writing a research paper or dissertation , then you’ll most likely need to include a comprehensive literature review . In this post, we’ll review the purpose of literature reviews, why they are so significant, and the specific elements to include in one. Literature reviews can:

1. Provide a foundation for current research.

2. Define key concepts and theories.

3. Demonstrate critical evaluation.

4. Show how research and methodologies have evolved.

5. Identify gaps in existing research.

6. Support your argument.

Keep reading to enter the exciting world of literature reviews!

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical summary and evaluation of the existing research (e.g., academic journal articles and books) on a specific topic. It is typically included as a separate section or chapter of a research paper or dissertation, serving as a contextual framework for a study. Literature reviews can vary in length depending on the subject and nature of the study, with most being about equal length to other sections or chapters included in the paper. Essentially, the literature review highlights previous studies in the context of your research and summarizes your insights in a structured, organized format. Next, let’s look at the overall purpose of a literature review.

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Literature reviews are considered an integral part of research across most academic subjects and fields. The primary purpose of a literature review in your study is to:

Provide a Foundation for Current Research

Since the literature review provides a comprehensive evaluation of the existing research, it serves as a solid foundation for your current study. It’s a way to contextualize your work and show how your research fits into the broader landscape of your specific area of study.  

Define Key Concepts and Theories

The literature review highlights the central theories and concepts that have arisen from previous research on your chosen topic. It gives your readers a more thorough understanding of the background of your study and why your research is particularly significant .

Demonstrate Critical Evaluation 

A comprehensive literature review shows your ability to critically analyze and evaluate a broad range of source material. And since you’re considering and acknowledging the contribution of key scholars alongside your own, it establishes your own credibility and knowledge.

Show How Research and Methodologies Have Evolved

Another purpose of literature reviews is to provide a historical perspective and demonstrate how research and methodologies have changed over time, especially as data collection methods and technology have advanced. And studying past methodologies allows you, as the researcher, to understand what did and did not work and apply that knowledge to your own research.  

Identify Gaps in Existing Research

Besides discussing current research and methodologies, the literature review should also address areas that are lacking in the existing literature. This helps further demonstrate the relevance of your own research by explaining why your study is necessary to fill the gaps.

Support Your Argument

A good literature review should provide evidence that supports your research questions and hypothesis. For example, your study may show that your research supports existing theories or builds on them in some way. Referencing previous related studies shows your work is grounded in established research and will ultimately be a contribution to the field.  

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A Guide to Literature Reviews

Importance of a good literature review.

  • Conducting the Literature Review
  • Structure and Writing Style
  • Types of Literature Reviews
  • Citation Management Software This link opens in a new window
  • Acknowledgements

A literature review is not only a summary of key sources, but  has an organizational pattern which combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].
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Literature Review in Research Writing

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Table of Contents

Research on research? If you find this idea rather peculiar, know that nowadays, with the huge amount of information produced daily all around the world, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up to date with all of it. In addition to the sheer amount of research, there is also its origin. We are witnessing the economic and intellectual emergence of countries like China, Brazil, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates, for example, that are producing scholarly literature in their own languages. So, apart from the effort of gathering information, there must also be translators prepared to unify all of it in a single language to be the object of the literature survey. At Elsevier, our team of translators is ready to support researchers by delivering high-quality scientific translations , in several languages, to serve their research – no matter the topic.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a study – or, more accurately, a survey – involving scholarly material, with the aim to discuss published information about a specific topic or research question. Therefore, to write a literature review, it is compulsory that you are a real expert in the object of study. The results and findings will be published and made available to the public, namely scientists working in the same area of research.

How to Write a Literature Review

First of all, don’t forget that writing a literature review is a great responsibility. It’s a document that is expected to be highly reliable, especially concerning its sources and findings. You have to feel intellectually comfortable in the area of study and highly proficient in the target language; misconceptions and errors do not have a place in a document as important as a literature review. In fact, you might want to consider text editing services, like those offered at Elsevier, to make sure your literature is following the highest standards of text quality. You want to make sure your literature review is memorable by its novelty and quality rather than language errors.

Writing a literature review requires expertise but also organization. We cannot teach you about your topic of research, but we can provide a few steps to guide you through conducting a literature review:

  • Choose your topic or research question: It should not be too comprehensive or too limited. You have to complete your task within a feasible time frame.
  • Set the scope: Define boundaries concerning the number of sources, time frame to be covered, geographical area, etc.
  • Decide which databases you will use for your searches: In order to search the best viable sources for your literature review, use highly regarded, comprehensive databases to get a big picture of the literature related to your topic.
  • Search, search, and search: Now you’ll start to investigate the research on your topic. It’s critical that you keep track of all the sources. Start by looking at research abstracts in detail to see if their respective studies relate to or are useful for your own work. Next, search for bibliographies and references that can help you broaden your list of resources. Choose the most relevant literature and remember to keep notes of their bibliographic references to be used later on.
  • Review all the literature, appraising carefully it’s content: After reading the study’s abstract, pay attention to the rest of the content of the articles you deem the “most relevant.” Identify methodologies, the most important questions they address, if they are well-designed and executed, and if they are cited enough, etc.

If it’s the first time you’ve published a literature review, note that it is important to follow a special structure. Just like in a thesis, for example, it is expected that you have an introduction – giving the general idea of the central topic and organizational pattern – a body – which contains the actual discussion of the sources – and finally the conclusion or recommendations – where you bring forward whatever you have drawn from the reviewed literature. The conclusion may even suggest there are no agreeable findings and that the discussion should be continued.

Why are literature reviews important?

Literature reviews constantly feed new research, that constantly feeds literature reviews…and we could go on and on. The fact is, one acts like a force over the other and this is what makes science, as a global discipline, constantly develop and evolve. As a scientist, writing a literature review can be very beneficial to your career, and set you apart from the expert elite in your field of interest. But it also can be an overwhelming task, so don’t hesitate in contacting Elsevier for text editing services, either for profound edition or just a last revision. We guarantee the very highest standards. You can also save time by letting us suggest and make the necessary amendments to your manuscript, so that it fits the structural pattern of a literature review. Who knows how many worldwide researchers you will impact with your next perfectly written literature review.

Know more: How to Find a Gap in Research .

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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Conducting a literature review: why do a literature review, why do a literature review.

  • How To Find "The Literature"
  • Found it -- Now What?

Besides the obvious reason for students -- because it is assigned! -- a literature review helps you explore the research that has come before you, to see how your research question has (or has not) already been addressed.

You identify:

  • core research in the field
  • experts in the subject area
  • methodology you may want to use (or avoid)
  • gaps in knowledge -- or where your research would fit in

It Also Helps You:

  • Publish and share your findings
  • Justify requests for grants and other funding
  • Identify best practices to inform practice
  • Set wider context for a program evaluation
  • Compile information to support community organizing

Great brief overview, from NCSU

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important past and current research and practices. It provides background and context, and shows how your research will contribute to the field. 

A literature review should: 

  • Provide a comprehensive and updated review of the literature;
  • Explain why this review has taken place;
  • Articulate a position or hypothesis;
  • Acknowledge and account for conflicting and corroborating points of view

From  S age Research Methods

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review can be written as an introduction to a study to:

  • Demonstrate how a study fills a gap in research
  • Compare a study with other research that's been done

Or it can be a separate work (a research article on its own) which:

  • Organizes or describes a topic
  • Describes variables within a particular issue/problem

Limitations of a Literature Review

Some of the limitations of a literature review are:

  • It's a snapshot in time. Unlike other reviews, this one has beginning, a middle and an end. There may be future developments that could make your work less relevant.
  • It may be too focused. Some niche studies may miss the bigger picture.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive. There is no way to make sure all the literature on a topic was considered.
  • It is easy to be biased if you stick to top tier journals. There may be other places where people are publishing exemplary research. Look to open access publications and conferences to reflect a more inclusive collection. Also, make sure to include opposing views (and not just supporting evidence).

Source: Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A Typology of Reviews: An Analysis of 14 Review Types and Associated Methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 91–108. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

Meryl Brodsky : Communication and Information Studies

Hannah Chapman Tripp : Biology, Neuroscience

Carolyn Cunningham : Human Development & Family Sciences, Psychology, Sociology

Larayne Dallas : Engineering

Janelle Hedstrom : Special Education, Curriculum & Instruction, Ed Leadership & Policy ​

Susan Macicak : Linguistics

Imelda Vetter : Dell Medical School

For help in other subject areas, please see the guide to library specialists by subject .

Periodically, UT Libraries runs a workshop covering the basics and library support for literature reviews. While we try to offer these once per academic year, we find providing the recording to be helpful to community members who have missed the session. Following is the most recent recording of the workshop, Conducting a Literature Review. To view the recording, a UT login is required.

  • October 26, 2022 recording
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Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide — Introduction

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What are Literature Reviews?

So, what is a literature review? "A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries." Taylor, D.  The literature review: A few tips on conducting it . University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Centre.

Goals of Literature Reviews

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?  A literature could be written to accomplish different aims:

  • To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
  • To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
  • Identify a problem in a field of research 

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews .  Review of General Psychology , 1 (3), 311-320.

What kinds of sources require a Literature Review?

  • A research paper assigned in a course
  • A thesis or dissertation
  • A grant proposal
  • An article intended for publication in a journal

All these instances require you to collect what has been written about your research topic so that you can demonstrate how your own research sheds new light on the topic.

Types of Literature Reviews

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Narrative review: The purpose of this type of review is to describe the current state of the research on a specific topic/research and to offer a critical analysis of the literature reviewed. Studies are grouped by research/theoretical categories, and themes and trends, strengths and weakness, and gaps are identified. The review ends with a conclusion section which summarizes the findings regarding the state of the research of the specific study, the gaps identify and if applicable, explains how the author's research will address gaps identify in the review and expand the knowledge on the topic reviewed.

  • Example : Predictors and Outcomes of U.S. Quality Maternity Leave: A Review and Conceptual Framework:  10.1177/08948453211037398  

Systematic review : "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139). Nelson, L. K. (2013). Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders . Plural Publishing.

  • Example : The effect of leave policies on increasing fertility: a systematic review:  10.1057/s41599-022-01270-w

Meta-analysis : "Meta-analysis is a method of reviewing research findings in a quantitative fashion by transforming the data from individual studies into what is called an effect size and then pooling and analyzing this information. The basic goal in meta-analysis is to explain why different outcomes have occurred in different studies." (p. 197). Roberts, M. C., & Ilardi, S. S. (2003). Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology . Blackwell Publishing.

  • Example : Employment Instability and Fertility in Europe: A Meta-Analysis:  10.1215/00703370-9164737

Meta-synthesis : "Qualitative meta-synthesis is a type of qualitative study that uses as data the findings from other qualitative studies linked by the same or related topic." (p.312). Zimmer, L. (2006). Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts .  Journal of Advanced Nursing , 53 (3), 311-318.

  • Example : Women’s perspectives on career successes and barriers: A qualitative meta-synthesis:  10.1177/05390184221113735

Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences

  • UConn Health subject guide on systematic reviews Explanation of the different review types used in health sciences literature as well as tools to help you find the right review type
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The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Provide a foundation of knowledge on a topic
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication and give credit to other researchers
  • Identify inconstancies: gaps in research, conflicts in previous studies, open questions left from other research
  • Identify the need for additional research (justifying your research)
  • Identify the relationship of works in the context of their contribution to the topic and other works
  • Place your own research within the context of existing literature, making a case for why further study is needed.

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VIDEO: What is the role of a literature review in research? What's it mean to "review" the literature? Get the big picture of what to expect as part of the process. This video is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license. License, credits, and contact information can be found here: https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/litreview/

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  • Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

APA7 Style resources

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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Conducting a Literature Review

Benefits of conducting a literature review.

  • Steps in Conducting a Literature Review
  • Summary of the Process
  • Additional Resources
  • Literature Review Tutorial by American University Library
  • The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It by University of Toronto
  • Write a Literature Review by UC Santa Cruz University Library

While there might be many reasons for conducting a literature review, following are four key outcomes of doing the review.

Assessment of the current state of research on a topic . This is probably the most obvious value of the literature review. Once a researcher has determined an area to work with for a research project, a search of relevant information sources will help determine what is already known about the topic and how extensively the topic has already been researched.

Identification of the experts on a particular topic . One of the additional benefits derived from doing the literature review is that it will quickly reveal which researchers have written the most on a particular topic and are, therefore, probably the experts on the topic. Someone who has written twenty articles on a topic or on related topics is more than likely more knowledgeable than someone who has written a single article. This same writer will likely turn up as a reference in most of the other articles written on the same topic. From the number of articles written by the author and the number of times the writer has been cited by other authors, a researcher will be able to assume that the particular author is an expert in the area and, thus, a key resource for consultation in the current research to be undertaken.

Identification of key questions about a topic that need further research . In many cases a researcher may discover new angles that need further exploration by reviewing what has already been written on a topic. For example, research may suggest that listening to music while studying might lead to better retention of ideas, but the research might not have assessed whether a particular style of music is more beneficial than another. A researcher who is interested in pursuing this topic would then do well to follow up existing studies with a new study, based on previous research, that tries to identify which styles of music are most beneficial to retention.

Determination of methodologies used in past studies of the same or similar topics.  It is often useful to review the types of studies that previous researchers have launched as a means of determining what approaches might be of most benefit in further developing a topic. By the same token, a review of previously conducted studies might lend itself to researchers determining a new angle for approaching research.

Upon completion of the literature review, a researcher should have a solid foundation of knowledge in the area and a good feel for the direction any new research should take. Should any additional questions arise during the course of the research, the researcher will know which experts to consult in order to quickly clear up those questions.

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The Importance of Literature Review in Academic Writing

The Importance of Literature Review in Academic Writing

The literature review holds paramount importance in academic writing for several reasons. Firstly, it serves as a comprehensive survey of existing research, establishing a solid foundation for the author’s work. It helps identify gaps, trends, and debates in the chosen field, guiding researchers toward relevant and valuable contributions. Additionally, a well-crafted literature review demonstrates the author’s understanding of the subject, showcases critical thinking skills, and enhances the credibility of the academic work by contextualizing it within the broader scholarly conversation. Overall, the literature review is an indispensable component that enriches the depth and quality of academic writing.

What is the role of a literature review in academic writing

The literature review plays a crucial role in academic writing by serving several important functions;

  • Establishing Context:  A literature review provides the context for the research by summarizing and synthesizing existing knowledge on the chosen topic. It helps readers understand the background and the current state of the subject matter.
  • Identifying Gaps in Knowledge:  Through a literature review, researchers can identify gaps, controversies, or areas where more research is needed. This helps in justifying the significance of the new study and contributing to the existing body of knowledge.
  • Formulating Research Questions or Hypotheses:  By reviewing existing literature, researchers can derive relevant research questions or hypotheses. This ensures that the study is informed by and contributes to the broader academic discourse.
  • Building a Theoretical Framework:  A literature review helps in building the theoretical framework for a study by examining and summarizing relevant theories and concepts from previous research. It provides a conceptual foundation for the current research.
  • Selecting Methodology:  Understanding how previous studies were conducted helps researchers in selecting an appropriate methodology for their own research. It also assists in avoiding potential pitfalls or methodological errors.
  • Avoiding Duplication:  Researchers can identify what has already been done, preventing duplication of efforts. This helps in ensuring that the new study adds value and contributes to the existing knowledge.
  • Critically Evaluating Sources:  A literature review involves a critical analysis of the quality and reliability of the sources. This ensures that the information used in the study is credible and relevant.
  • Synthesizing Information:  A literature review involves synthesizing information from various sources to present a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of the topic. It helps in drawing connections and patterns in the existing research.
  • Providing a Historical Perspective:  It offers a historical perspective on the development of ideas and concepts within a specific field, allowing readers to trace the evolution of thought over time.
  • Supporting or Challenging Arguments:  The literature review supports the author’s arguments by presenting evidence from existing research. It may also highlight conflicting findings or alternative perspectives that contribute to a balanced discussion.

In summary, the literature review is a critical component of academic writing, serving as a foundation for the research, guiding methodology, and contributing to the scholarly conversation within a particular field.

How does a literature review contribute to the overall quality of a research paper

A literature review contributes significantly to the overall quality of a research paper in several ways:

  • Establishing Credibility:  By reviewing relevant and reputable sources, a literature review helps establish the credibility of the research. It shows that the author is well-informed about existing scholarship on the topic.
  • Identifying Research Gaps:  The literature review identifies gaps, controversies, or unanswered questions in the current body of knowledge. This not only justifies the need for the new study but also highlights its potential contribution to the field.
  • Providing Context and Background:  A literature review provides context by summarizing and synthesizing existing research. It helps readers understand the historical development, key concepts, and current state of the research topic.
  • Guiding Research Questions or Hypotheses:  The literature review informs the formulation of research questions or hypotheses by revealing what is already known and what remains unknown in the field. This ensures that the study is focused and relevant.
  • Building a Theoretical Framework:  It contributes to building a theoretical framework by examining and summarizing relevant theories and concepts. This theoretical foundation helps structure the research and guide the analysis.
  • Selecting Appropriate Methodology:  Knowledge of how previous studies were conducted informs the choice of methodology for the new research. This ensures that the research design is well-suited to address the specific objectives of the study.
  • Avoiding Duplication:  The literature review helps prevent duplication of efforts by identifying what has already been studied. This ensures that the new research contributes something novel to the existing body of knowledge.
  • Providing a Critical Analysis:  A literature review involves critically evaluating the quality, reliability, and relevance of sources. This ensures that only credible and pertinent information is included in the research paper.
  • Synthesizing Information:  By synthesizing information from diverse sources, a literature review presents a comprehensive and cohesive understanding of the research topic. It helps in drawing connections and identifying patterns in the existing literature.
  • Supporting Arguments:  The literature review supports the author’s arguments and hypotheses by providing evidence from previous studies. It demonstrates how the current research fits into the broader scholarly conversation.

In essence, a well-executed literature review enhances the overall quality of a research paper by providing a solid foundation, guiding the research process, and ensuring that the study contributes meaningfully to the academic discourse in its respective field.

What are the key objectives of conducting a literature review in academic research

The key objectives of conducting a literature review in academic research include;

  • Identifying Existing Knowledge:  To review and summarize the current state of knowledge on a particular topic or research question, understanding what is already known.
  • Establishing Context:  To provide the necessary background and context for the research, helping readers understand the significance of the study.
  • Identifying Gaps and Research Questions:  To identify gaps, controversies, or areas where further research is needed, which helps in formulating specific research questions or hypotheses.
  • Building a Theoretical Framework:  To review and synthesize relevant theories and concepts that will form the theoretical foundation of the research.
  • Guiding Methodology:  To inform the selection of appropriate research methodologies and methods based on the strengths and weaknesses of previous studies.
  • Avoiding Duplication:  To ensure that the research contributes something new to the existing body of knowledge, preventing unnecessary duplication of previous studies.
  • Critical Evaluation:  To critically evaluate the quality, reliability, and validity of existing literature, ensuring that only credible sources are used to support the research.
  • Synthesizing Information:  To synthesize information from diverse sources, presenting a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • Identifying Key Concepts and Variables:  To identify and define key concepts, variables, and terms relevant to the research study.
  • Understanding Methodological Approaches:  To understand how previous studies were conducted, helping researchers learn from successes and pitfalls in methodology.
  • Recognizing Trends and Patterns:  To identify trends, patterns, and recurring themes in the literature, providing insights into the broader context of the research.
  • Contextualizing Findings:  To place the research findings in the context of existing knowledge, allowing for a more nuanced interpretation of results.
  • Informing Literature Selection:  To guide the selection of literature relevant to the research topic, ensuring that the review is focused and comprehensive.
  • Supporting or Challenging Arguments:  To provide evidence and support for the arguments or hypotheses presented in the research, or to highlight conflicting findings in the literature.
  • Contributing to Theoretical Debates:  To actively contribute to theoretical debates and discussions within the academic field.
  • Enhancing the Rigor of Research:  To enhance the overall rigor and validity of the research by basing it on a solid foundation of existing knowledge.

The objectives of a literature review in academic research are multi-faceted, ranging from understanding existing knowledge to guiding the research process and ensuring the credibility and significance of the study.

How does a literature review help establish the research gap in a particular field

A literature review plays a crucial role in identifying and establishing the research gap in a particular field through the following mechanisms;

  • Summarizing Existing Knowledge:  The literature review provides a comprehensive summary of existing research on a given topic, allowing researchers to understand the current state of knowledge in the field.
  • Identifying Patterns and Trends:  By reviewing multiple studies, a literature review helps researchers identify patterns, trends, and common themes in the existing literature. This analysis highlights areas where research has been concentrated and areas where it may be lacking.
  • Highlighting Consensus and Controversies:  The literature review reveals areas where there is a consensus among researchers and areas where there are conflicting findings or ongoing debates. This can point to gaps in understanding that require further investigation.
  • Pointing to Unanswered Questions:  As researchers analyze the literature, they may come across questions that have not been adequately addressed or answered by existing studies. These unanswered questions signify potential research gaps.
  • Examining Methodological Limitations:  A thorough literature review involves evaluating the methodologies employed in previous studies. Identifying limitations or gaps in methodology can suggest areas where further research is needed to address these shortcomings.
  • Assessing Currency of Information:  If there is a lack of recent studies on a specific aspect of a topic, it may indicate that there is a gap in recent research that needs attention.
  • Considering Emerging Trends:  The literature review allows researchers to identify emerging trends or new developments in the field. These trends may open up avenues for novel research directions.
  • Evaluating Geographical or Cultural Gaps:  Geographical or cultural gaps in the literature can also indicate areas where further research is needed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • Analyzing Changes Over Time:  A temporal analysis of the literature can reveal how research on a particular topic has evolved. Recognizing changes and shifts in focus over time may uncover gaps in understanding that need addressing.
  • Seeking Gaps in Application:  Researchers can identify gaps in the application of theoretical frameworks or interventions within practical settings. This may suggest opportunities for applied research.

By systematically examining the existing literature and critically evaluating its content, methodologies, and findings, researchers can pinpoint areas where knowledge is incomplete or where further investigation is necessary. Identifying these gaps helps shape the rationale for the new study and positions it within the broader context of the existing body of knowledge.

In what ways does a literature review assist in framing research questions and hypotheses

A literature review assists in framing research questions and hypotheses in several ways;

  • Identification of Existing Knowledge:  A literature review provides an overview of existing knowledge on a particular topic, helping researchers understand what has already been studied and established in the field.
  • Identification of Gaps:  By analyzing the existing literature, researchers can identify gaps, limitations, or unanswered questions. These gaps serve as a basis for formulating research questions, as they highlight areas where new knowledge is needed.
  • Understanding Theoretical Foundations:  The literature review helps researchers understand the theoretical frameworks and concepts that have been used in previous studies. This understanding guides the formulation of research questions that align with established theories or challenge existing paradigms.
  • Inspiration from Previous Research:  Reviewing the literature provides researchers with insights and inspiration from previous studies. It helps them identify interesting phenomena, patterns, or trends that can lead to the formulation of relevant and meaningful research questions.
  • Identification of Variables:  Researchers can identify key variables, factors, or elements that have been studied in the literature. This identification informs the formulation of hypotheses and guides the operationalization of variables in the research design.
  • Clarity in Focus:  A literature review helps researchers narrow down the scope of their study by clarifying the focus and defining the specific aspects of the topic that need further investigation. This clarity contributes to the formulation of precise and focused research questions.
  • Understanding Methodologies:  By examining the methodologies used in previous studies, researchers gain insights into various research approaches. This understanding guides the selection of an appropriate research methodology for their own study, influencing the formulation of research questions.
  • Building on Previous Findings:  Researchers may build on or extend previous findings identified in the literature. Formulating research questions in the context of existing research allows for the advancement of knowledge and contributes to the ongoing scholarly conversation.
  • Alignment with Research Goals:  The literature review helps researchers align their research questions with the overarching goals and objectives of the study. This ensures that the research questions are relevant and contribute meaningfully to the field.
  • Contextualizing Hypotheses:  Based on the insights gained from the literature review, researchers can formulate hypotheses that are grounded in existing theories or empirical evidence. This contextualization strengthens the rationale for the hypotheses.

A well-conducted literature review informs and guides the process of formulating research questions and hypotheses by providing a foundation of knowledge, highlighting gaps, and offering insights from previous studies. This ensures that the research questions are relevant, theoretically grounded, and contribute to the advancement of the field.

Can a well-conducted literature review enhance the credibility of academic research

Yes! A well-conducted literature review is  essential  for enhancing the credibility of academic research in several ways;

1. Demonstrates Expertise:  A comprehensive review shows you have a deep understanding of the existing knowledge and relevant theory in your field. This establishes you as an authority and positions your research within the broader context.

2. Justifies Significance:  By reviewing past studies, you can clarify the gaps in research and highlight why your project addresses a crucial, unanswered question. This strengthens the purpose and originality of your work.

3. Supports Methodological Choices:  You can use past research to justify your chosen methods, data collection, and analysis strategies. This demonstrates rigor and helps readers understand how your work builds upon previous findings.

4. Identifies Limitations and Strengths:  Recognizing strengths and limitations of earlier studies allows you to position your research strategically. You can address limitations of past work or build upon their strengths, demonstrating a critical and informed approach.

5. Shows Engagement with the Field:  Engaging with other scholars' work showcases your awareness of ongoing debates and conversations in your field. This demonstrates you are actively contributing to the advancement of knowledge.

Beyond Credibility:

A strong literature review goes beyond just building trust. It can also:

  • Spark new research ideas:  Examining diverse perspectives can trigger innovative ways to approach your research question.
  • Identify potential challenges:  Awareness of previous difficulties can help you anticipate and address similar issues in your study.
  • Strengthen your arguments:  Referencing relevant findings bolsters your conclusions and persuades readers of their validity.
  • Thoroughness matters:  Aim for a comprehensive review, including both supportive and opposing viewpoints.
  • Critical analysis is key:  Don’t just summarize; evaluate, compare, and contrast different studies to demonstrate your critical thinking skills.
  • Clarity is crucial:  Organize your review logically and present it in a clear, concise, and easy-to-follow manner.

By investing time and effort in conducting a well-structured and insightful literature review, you’ll lay a solid foundation for your research and significantly enhance its credibility and potential impact.

How does the literature review process aid in identifying key theories and concepts relevant to the research topic

The literature review process plays a crucial role in identifying key theories and concepts relevant to your research topic in several ways;

1. Exposure to Existing Knowledge:  As you dive into relevant scholarly articles, books, and other sources, you’ll be exposed to the prevailing theories and concepts surrounding your topic. This initial immersion provides a broad understanding of the landscape and potential key players.

2. Identifying Recurring Themes and Ideas:  As you analyze and synthesize the collected information, you’ll start noticing recurring themes, terminologies, and arguments. These recurrent elements likely represent the key theories and concepts shaping the field.

3. Recognizing Debates and Contradictions:  A good literature review doesn’t shy away from presenting opposing viewpoints and ongoing debates. Recognizing these tensions and contradictions can highlight unresolved questions or emerging concepts, guiding your own research focus.

4. Evaluating Strengths and Weaknesses of Existing Theories:  Critically analyzing past research allows you to identify the strengths and limitations of existing theories. This helps you understand which theories are robust and applicable and which areas need further exploration, potentially leading to innovative approaches.

5. Building Upon Previous Work:  The literature review allows you to see how different theories and concepts relate to each other and your research question. This knowledge helps you position your work within the existing conversation, building upon established ideas or introducing new ones.

Additional Tips

  • Keyword Exploration:  Utilize relevant keywords in your search queries to discover important theories and concepts associated with your topic.
  • Author Tracking:  Pay attention to frequently cited authors and influential figures in your field. Their work often reflects key theories and concepts.
  • Consult Experts:  Engage with professors, researchers, or librarians specializing in your field. They can provide guidance on prominent theories and suggest relevant sources.
  • Conceptual Mapping:  Visualize the relationships between concepts and theories you encounter through mind maps or diagrams. This aids in identifying key players and their connections.

What challenges might researchers face when conducting a literature review, and how can these be addressed

Conducting a robust literature review can be an enriching, yet challenging, experience for researchers. Here are some common hurdles and tips on how to overcome them:

1. Information Overload:  With the vast amount of published research available, it can be overwhelming to identify, select, and manage relevant sources.

  • Develop a focused research question:  This helps refine your search terms and target specific areas within the broader field.
  • Utilize advanced search techniques:  Boolean operators, filters, and keyword variations can improve the precision of your search results.
  • Leverage reference management tools:  Software like Mendeley or Zotero help organize and annotate your findings efficiently.

2. Bias and Incomplete Coverage:  Your search strategy and chosen sources might unintentionally introduce bias towards particular viewpoints or neglect relevant areas.

  • Consult with librarians or research experts:  They can offer guidance on diverse perspectives and alternative databases beyond the typical search engines.
  • Seek out dissenting voices and alternative methodologies:  Consider including research that challenges your initial assumptions to ensure a balanced review.
  • Be transparent about limitations:  Acknowledge potential biases and acknowledge areas where your review might be incomplete.

3. Difficulty Analyzing and Synthesizing Information:  Turning information into meaningful insights can be challenging, especially when dealing with conflicting studies or complex concepts.

  • Develop a clear analytical framework:  This helps you categorize and evaluate studies based on specific criteria like methodology, theoretical perspectives, and findings.
  • Identify key themes and arguments:  Look for recurring patterns and contrasting viewpoints across different studies.
  • Use critical thinking skills:  Evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and potential limitations of each study and its contribution to your understanding.

4. Time Constraints:  Conducting a thorough literature review can be time-consuming, especially for students or researchers with limited resources.

  • Develop a realistic timeline:  Break down the review process into manageable steps and allocate sufficient time for each stage.
  • Prioritize sources strategically:  Focus on highly relevant and impactful studies initially, then expand your search as needed.
  • Seek support from peers or mentors:  Discuss your progress and challenges with others to stay motivated and receive feedback.

5. Access to Resources:  Paywalled journals and limited library access can pose a barrier for some researchers, particularly those affiliated with smaller institutions.

  • Explore open access resources:  Numerous online platforms offer free access to scholarly articles and books.
  • Utilize interlibrary loan services:  Libraries can often borrow materials from other institutions for you.
  • Network with other researchers:  Share resources and potentially collaborate with colleagues who have access to different databases.

Conducting a well-structured and thoughtful literature review is an iterative process. Don’t be afraid to revisit your search terms, adjust your focus, and seek help when needed. By actively addressing these challenges, you can transform your literature review from a chore into a valuable tool for enriching your research project and enhancing its intellectual contribution.

How does a literature review help researchers avoid duplication of existing studies

A well-conducted literature review serves as a powerful tool for researchers to avoid duplication of existing studies in several ways;

1. Unveiling Existing Knowledge:  By diligently exploring past research, researchers gain a comprehensive understanding of what has already been explored and established in their field. This knowledge enables them to identify areas where further investigation is truly needed, preventing them from replicating what’s already known.

2. Building Upon Previous Work:  The literature review allows researchers to discover the strengths and weaknesses of past studies. This empowers them to build upon existing findings, addressing identified limitations or extending the investigation in new directions, rather than simply repeating previous efforts.

3. Identifying Gaps and Unanswered Questions:  Through critical analysis of past research, researchers can pinpoint areas where knowledge is lacking or existing conclusions remain inconclusive. This guides them towards formulating original research questions that address these gaps and contribute novel insights to the field.

4. Recognizing Methodological Approaches:  Examining methodologies employed in earlier studies helps researchers understand the effectiveness and limitations of specific methods. This knowledge allows them to adapt or design innovative approaches that avoid replicating potential flaws or inefficiencies in past studies.

5. Avoiding the “Reinventing the Wheel” Pitfall:  By immersing themselves in the existing scholarship, researchers prevent themselves from unknowingly replicating established knowledge or methodologies. This saves valuable time and resources, allowing them to focus on truly innovative and impactful research contributions.

  • Utilize systematic review techniques:  These involve rigorous search strategies, selection criteria, and data analysis methods to ensure comprehensive coverage and minimize duplication.
  • Consult research databases and tools:  Many platforms offer features like citation analysis and duplicate detection to help researchers identify overlapping studies.
  • Engage with experts and peers:  Discussing your research topic and findings with experts or peers can help you identify areas where duplication might occur or suggest alternative directions for your study.
  • Clearly define your research question:  A well-defined research question ensures your study focuses on a specific gap in knowledge, minimizing the risk of unintentional duplication.

A literature review is not just about summarizing past research; it’s about critically evaluating it and using that knowledge to guide your own original contribution to the field. By diligently conducting your review and embracing its insights, you can avoid the pitfall of duplication and ensure your research makes a distinct and valuable impact.

In what ways does a literature review contribute to the theoretical framework of a research study

A literature review plays a crucial role in shaping and solidifying the theoretical framework of your research study in several key ways;

1. Identifying Relevant Theories and Concepts:  Through your exploration of existing research, you’ll encounter prominent theories and concepts related to your topic. These serve as the building blocks for your own theoretical framework.

2. Understanding Established Explanations:  The review exposes you to diverse theoretical explanations for the phenomena you’re investigating. This knowledge helps you understand the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of existing explanations.

3. Selecting and Justifying Your Framework:  Based on your understanding of existing theories and the specific focus of your research question, you can select the most relevant theories to form your theoretical framework. The literature review then serves as justification for your choice, demonstrating why these specific theories are best suited to address your research question.

4. Building Upon or Challenging Existing Theories:  Depending on your findings, the literature review might support and contribute to established theories by providing new evidence or deeper insights. Alternatively, it might challenge existing theories by highlighting their limitations or offering alternative explanations.

5. Demonstrating Theoretical Coherence:  Your literature review should showcase how the chosen theories connect with each other and how they collectively underpin your research question and methodology. This ensures a cohesive and well-reasoned theoretical framework.

6. Highlighting Originality and Significance:  By clearly demonstrating how your theoretical framework builds upon, departs from, or refines existing theories, the literature review emphasizes the originality and potential significance of your research contribution.

  • Clearly articulate your research question:  This guides your search for relevant theories and ensures your framework directly addresses your specific inquiry.
  • Engage in critical analysis:  Don’t simply accept theories on face value. Evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, and internal consistency through the lens of your research question.
  • Consult experts and peers:  Discuss your chosen theories and their connection to your research with experts or peers for feedback and refinement.
  • Maintain clear connections:  Throughout your research, demonstrate how your findings relate back to your theoretical framework, illustrating its explanatory power and validity.

How can a comprehensive literature review help researchers contextualize their findings within the existing body of knowledge

A comprehensive literature review plays a crucial role in contextualizing research findings within the existing body of knowledge by serving several key functions:

1. Setting the Stage:  The review provides a historical and theoretical background for your research topic. It establishes the current state of knowledge, key debates, and unresolved questions, creating a framework for understanding your findings.

2. Identifying Comparisons and Contrasts:  By showcasing related research and its conclusions, the review allows you to compare your findings to existing knowledge. This highlights similarities, discrepancies, and novel contributions, demonstrating the significance of your study.

3. Explaining Your Results:  You can leverage the review to explain your findings in relation to established theories and explanations. This strengthens the validity and generalizability of your conclusions by demonstrating how they fit within the larger picture.

4. Addressing Limitations and Implications:  The review helps you identify the limitations of your study and acknowledge areas where further research is needed. It also allows you to discuss the potential implications of your findings for future research and practical applications.

5. Engaging in Scholarly Conversation:  By referencing and critically analyzing previous studies, the review showcases your engagement with the existing scholarship. This positions you as a contributor to the ongoing conversation within your field.

  • Maintain a Focus:  While providing context, ensure your review remains focused on your specific research question and avoids irrelevant tangents.
  • Integrate Findings Seamlessly:  Weave your research findings into the review naturally, highlighting their unique contribution and connection to established knowledge.
  • Acknowledge Different Perspectives:  Don’t shy away from presenting contrasting viewpoints or alternative interpretations. This demonstrates a balanced and critical approach.
  • Use Clear Language and Structure:  Present your review in a way that is easy to understand and navigate for your target audience.

What role does a literature review play in identifying methodological approaches used in previous research studies

A literature review plays a crucial role in identifying methodological approaches used in previous research studies, serving as a foundation for designing your own methodology and demonstrating its significance. Here’s how;

1. Unveiling Existing Methods:  By exploring studies relevant to your topic, you’ll discover the diverse methods employed by other researchers. This expands your understanding of how different research questions can be addressed through different methodologies.

2. Evaluating Strengths and Weaknesses:  The review allows you to critically analyze the effectiveness and limitations of various methods used in past studies. This helps you understand the suitability of certain approaches for your specific research question and context.

3. Informing Your Choice:  Based on your understanding of existing methods and the specific demands of your research question, you can make informed decisions about the most appropriate methodology for your study. This ensures your chosen approach aligns with both theoretical foundations and established practices.

4. Justifying Your Methodology:  The literature review becomes a tool for justifying your chosen methods. By showcasing how your approach addresses limitations of past studies or offers a unique perspective, you demonstrate the suitability and potential advantages of your methodology.

5. Avoiding Pitfalls and Inefficiencies:  Analyzing past methods helps you identify potential pitfalls or inefficiencies associated with specific approaches. This allows you to adapt existing methods or design new ones that avoid these weaknesses, leading to a more robust and efficient research process.

  • Categorize Methods:  Organize your findings by grouping similar methodological approaches or research designs. This helps you compare and contrast their applicability.
  • Consider Your Research Question:  Always evaluate methods through the lens of your specific research question and data needs. Don’t blindly mimic others; choose based on suitability.
  • Consult Experts and Peers:  Discuss your chosen methodology and its connection to your research question with experts or peers for feedback and refinement.
  • Clearly Explain Your Choices:  In your research report, clearly explain your chosen methodology, justifying it by referencing relevant past studies and highlighting its unique advantages.

How can a literature review help researchers identify potential sources of bias or limitations in existing studies

A literature review serves as a powerful tool for researchers to identify potential sources of bias and limitations in existing studies by offering several key perspectives;

1. Scrutinizing Design and Methodology:  Examining research methods and design choices allows you to pinpoint potential sources of bias. Consider factors like sample selection, data collection procedures, and control groups. Look for imbalances, subjectivity, or lack of randomization that could skew results.

2. Evaluating Data Analysis and Interpretation:  Analyze how studies handled data analysis and interpretation of findings. Look for selective reporting of data, subjective interpretations, or questionable statistical methods that might introduce bias or limit the validity of conclusions.

3. Identifying Conflicting Results and Gaps in Evidence:  Comparing and contrasting findings across different studies can reveal inconsistencies or discrepancies. These conflicting results might point towards potential biases in specific studies or highlight limitations in the overall body of evidence.

4. Considering Author Bias and Research Context:  Be aware of potential author biases related to funding sources, personal beliefs, or institutional affiliations. Examine the broader research context and prevailing discourses to identify potential biases shaping the field.

5. Consulting Quality Assessment Tools:  Leverage established tools like the Cochrane Collaboration Risk of Bias tool or the PRISMA checklist to systematically assess the methodological quality of reviewed studies. These tools highlight potential weaknesses and limitations for further consideration.

  • Develop a Critical Mindset:  Approach your review with a questioning attitude, actively seeking potential flaws and limitations in methodology, analysis, and conclusions.
  • Consult Experts and Peers:  Discuss your findings and identified biases with experts or peers in your field. Their insights can help you refine your analysis and gain broader perspectives.
  • Clearly Report Identified Biases:  Don’t shy away from acknowledging and discussing potential biases in existing studies. This demonstrates transparency and strengthens your analysis.
  • Use Your Findings to Guide Your Research:  Identify and address limitations in previous studies by designing your research to overcome them. This contributes to a more robust and comprehensive understanding of your topic.

What impact does a thorough literature review have on the formulation of a research methodology

A thorough literature review can have a  profound impact  on the formulation of your research methodology by influencing several key aspects;

1. Identifying Relevant Research Designs:  The review exposes you to diverse research designs used in previous studies related to your topic. This broadens your understanding of how specific questions can be addressed and helps you choose the most suitable design for your own research question.

2. Selecting Appropriate Data Collection Methods:  By analyzing the methods used in past studies, you gain insights into the effectiveness and limitations of different data collection techniques. This knowledge empowers you to select methods that align with your research design and the type of data you need to answer your question.

3. Considering Sampling Strategies:  Exploring how previous studies selected their samples allows you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of different sampling techniques. This informs your decisions regarding sample size, representativeness, and potential biases associated with different sampling strategies.

4. Developing Data Analysis Procedures:  Reviewing past studies' analysis methods helps you understand different approaches to data processing, interpretation, and statistical techniques. This allows you to adapt or create appropriate analysis procedures tailored to your specific research question and data type.

5. Anticipating Potential Challenges:  Analyzing the limitations and challenges encountered in past studies equips you to proactively address similar issues in your own research. This helps you refine your methodology and plan mitigation strategies to ensure data quality and validity.

6. Justifying Your Chosen Methods:  The literature review becomes a foundation for justifying your chosen methods. By highlighting how your approach addresses limitations of past studies or offers a unique perspective, you demonstrate the suitability and potential advantages of your methodology.

  • Focus on Methodological Relevance:  When analyzing past studies, prioritize those that adopted research designs and methods closest to your own inquiry.
  • Consult Experts and Peers:  Share your chosen methodology and its connection to your research question with experts or peers for feedback and refinement.
  • Maintain Rigor and Transparency:  Ensure your chosen methods align with recognized research standards and clearly explain their rationale in your research report.

How does the literature review process contribute to the synthesis of information from various sources

The literature review process plays a crucial role in synthesizing information from various sources by several key mechanisms;

1. Critical Evaluation and Comparison:  You don’t simply summarize each source individually; you actively compare and contrast their findings, methodologies, and theoretical perspectives. This helps you identify commonalities, inconsistencies, and unique contributions of each source.

2. Identification of Key Themes and Arguments:  Through in-depth analysis, you uncover recurring themes, arguments, and concepts across different sources. This allows you to synthesize diverse information into a cohesive understanding of the overall knowledge landscape surrounding your topic.

3. Building Connections and Relationships:  You go beyond just presenting findings side-by-side. You actively build connections between different sources, highlighting how they support, contradict, or expand upon each other’s ideas. This creates a richer and more nuanced understanding of the topic.

4. Integrating Theories and Explanations:  You don’t just list theories; you evaluate their strengths and weaknesses within the context of your research question. By integrating relevant theories from different sources, you create a robust theoretical framework that informs your own research and analysis.

5. Constructing New Knowledge:  Synthesis is not just about summarizing; it’s about drawing new insights and interpretations based on the combined information. By critically analyzing and creatively connecting across sources, you can formulate original perspectives and contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

  • Utilize Visual Tools:  Mind maps, concept maps, or diagrams can help visualize relationships between different sources and key findings.
  • Develop a Coding System:  Categorize different sources based on themes, methodologies, or viewpoints to facilitate comparison and synthesis.
  • Write Critically and Analytically:  Don’t simply paraphrase; analyze, evaluate, and interpret the information from different sources in light of your research question.
  • Maintain Transparency and Source Attribution:  Clearly acknowledge the sources you use and ensure proper citation practices throughout your review.

By engaging in these active synthesis processes, the literature review becomes much more than a collection of summaries. It transforms into a powerful tool for generating new knowledge, refining your research question, and contributing meaningfully to the existing body of scholarship. 

What strategies can researchers employ to critically evaluate and synthesize diverse literature in their field

Researchers can employ a variety of strategies to critically evaluate and synthesize diverse literature in their field;

Evaluation Strategies

  • Scrutinize Methodology:  Analyze the research design, sample selection, data collection, and analysis methods used in each source. Consider potential biases, limitations, and strengths of each approach.
  • Evaluate Theoretical Frameworks:  Examine the theoretical perspectives underpinning each study. Are they well-justified? Do they align with other studies and your own research question?
  • Assess Findings and Claims:  Don’t accept results at face value. Critically evaluate the evidence and arguments presented, considering alternative interpretations and potential counter-arguments.
  • Consider Author Credibility:  Look at the author’s expertise and publication history in the field. Are they respected figures? Do they have potential biases or conflicts of interest?
  • Compare and Contrast Sources:  Actively compare findings, methodologies, and conclusions across different sources. Identify similarities, discrepancies, and unique contributions of each study.

Synthesis Strategies

  • Identify Recurring Themes and Arguments:  As you analyze sources, look for common threads, concepts, and debates emerging across the literature. Organize your findings around these themes for clarity.
  • Build Connections and Relationships:  Don’t present sources in isolation. Highlight how they relate to each other, building a cohesive understanding of the topic. Show how they support, contradict, or expand upon each other’s ideas.
  • Develop a Synthesis Framework:  Create a structure to organize your synthesis, such as chronological analysis, thematic comparison, or methodological critique. This framework will guide your analysis and presentation.
  • Integrate and Interpret:  Go beyond simply summarizing. Use the combined information to draw new insights, interpretations, and conclusions relevant to your research question.
  • Utilize Visual Tools:  Mind maps, concept maps, or diagrams can help visualize relationships between sources, themes, and key findings.
  • Consult Experts and Peers:  Discuss your findings and interpretations with scholars or colleagues in your field. Their feedback can refine your analysis and identify potential blind spots.
  • Utilize Specialized Tools:  Software like NVivo or ATLAS.ti can help manage and analyze large amounts of literature data.
  • Maintain Transparency and Citation:  Clearly acknowledge the sources you use and ensure proper citation practices throughout your work.
  • Focus on Quality Over Quantity:  Don’t aim for an exhaustive review at the expense of depth. Prioritize high-quality, relevant sources that offer significant insights.

How does a literature review contribute to the identification of key variables and concepts in a research study

A well-conducted literature review plays a crucial role in identifying key variables and concepts for your research study in several ways;

1. Unveiling Relevant Domains and Theories:  By immersing yourself in the existing scholarship, you’ll encounter various theories and concepts surrounding your topic. These serve as starting points for identifying potential variables relevant to your research question.

2. Identifying Relationships and Interactions:  Through your analysis, you’ll discover how different concepts and variables are linked within existing studies. This helps you understand potential interactions and dependencies between factors you might investigate.

3. Examining Measurements and Operationalizations:  Reviewing past research methods allows you to see how specific variables have been operationalized and measured. This informs your own choices regarding how to define and measure relevant variables in your study.

4. Recognizing Contextual Factors:  The literature review exposes you to various contextual factors that might influence the variables you’re interested in. This awareness helps you identify potential moderator or control variables that need consideration in your research design.

5. Spotlighting Gaps and Untapped Potential:  Analyzing past studies can reveal areas where specific variables haven’t been fully explored or their interactions haven’t been examined. This highlights opportunities for you to explore novel variables or investigate existing ones from a unique perspective.

  • Develop a Focused Research Question:  A clear and specific research question guides your search for relevant variables and ensures you don’t get overwhelmed by too much information.
  • Utilize Key Terms and Search Operators:  Explore the literature using relevant keywords and Boolean operators to refine your search and target specific concepts or variables.
  • Consult With Experts and Peers:  Discuss your research topic and potential variables with experts or colleagues in your field. Their insights can point you towards important concepts and suggest different perspectives.
  • Conduct Thematic Analysis:  Organize your findings by grouping related concepts and variables. This visualizes their connections and helps you identify key elements for your research.
  • Maintain Theoretical Coherence:  Ensure the identified variables and concepts align with your chosen theoretical framework, demonstrating their relevance to your research question.

The literature review is not just about passively collecting information; it’s about actively analyzing and making connections. By critically engaging with existing research, you’ll unearth the key variables and concepts that form the foundation of your study, ensuring its relevance, depth, and potential to add new knowledge to your field.

Can a literature review help researchers recognize trends and emerging themes in a particular academic field

Yes! A well-conducted literature review can be a powerful tool for researchers to recognize trends and emerging themes in a particular academic field. Here’s how;

1. Identifying Patterns and Recurring Concepts:  As you delve into existing research, you’ll naturally start noticing recurring themes, ideas, and methodologies being employed across different studies. These patterns can point towards emerging trends gaining traction within the field.

2. Tracking Shifts in Focus and Emphasis:  By comparing older studies with recent ones, you can identify shifts in the field’s focus. Are there new research questions gaining prominence? Are specific methodologies gaining favor? Recognizing these shifts can highlight emerging trends.

3. Analyzing Debates and Controversies:  Examining ongoing debates and controversies within the literature can reveal areas where new knowledge is being actively sought. These discussions often point towards potential trends in the field as researchers explore various solutions or interpretations.

4. Recognizing Gaps and Unexplored Areas:  A thorough literature review often uncovers gaps in previous research or areas where existing knowledge remains incomplete. Identifying these gaps can lead you to potential new trends as researchers strive to address them with their studies.

5. Utilizing Bibliometrics and Citation Analysis:  Analyzing citation patterns and trends in publication dates can reveal which areas are attracting increasing attention and potential emerging trends that are gaining momentum within the field.

  • Develop a Broad Search Strategy:  Don’t limit yourself to specific journals or disciplines. Cast a wider net to capture diverse perspectives and identify potential trends across different subfields.
  • Use Critical Analysis:  Don’t simply accept trends at face value. Analyze their potential causes, implications, and validity. Are they supported by evidence, or are they merely hype?
  • Consult Experts and Peers:  Discuss your findings and interpretations with scholars or colleagues in your field. Their insights can help you confirm or refine your understanding of emerging trends.
  • Consider the Broader Context:  Analyze how emerging trends within your field connect with developments in other disciplines or societal changes. This adds context and depth to your understanding.
  • Stay Updated:  Regularly review new literature and attend conferences to keep informed of the latest developments and emerging trends in your field.

What is the significance of staying updated on the latest literature when conducting a literature review

Staying updated on the latest literature holds immense significance for conducting a thorough and impactful literature review in several ways;

1. Ensuring Comprehensiveness and Relevance:  The field of research is constantly evolving, with new studies, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks emerging regularly. By incorporating the latest literature, you ensure your review encompasses the most current knowledge and findings, leading to a more comprehensive and relevant understanding of your topic.

2. Identifying Novel Research Questions and Gaps:  Recent publications often highlight new areas of inquiry and potential shortcomings in existing knowledge. Staying updated helps you identify gaps in research and formulate innovative research questions that address these unresolved issues, contributing to the advancement of your field.

3. Avoiding Outdated Information and Biases:  Relying solely on older literature might lead you to perpetuate outdated understandings or miss vital advancements that challenge previous biases. Staying updated ensures your review reflects the current state of knowledge and avoids misinterpretations based on superseded information.

4. Demonstrating Rigor and Expertise:  Incorporating recent, high-quality studies into your review showcases your awareness of the latest developments and strengthens the credibility of your work. It demonstrates your commitment to conducting a thorough and well-informed analysis.

5. Fostering Collaboration and Networking:  Engaging with the latest literature opens doors for collaboration with researchers exploring similar topics and methodologies. Utilizing new tools and platforms for scholarly communication allows you to connect with diverse perspectives and potentially contribute to ongoing research projects.

Strategies for Staying Updated

  • Develop Targeted Alerts:  Set up automatic notifications for new publications in relevant journals, databases, and author profiles.
  • Attend Conferences and Workshops:  Participate in academic events to gain insights into ongoing research and network with experts.
  • Utilize Literature Review Tools:  Leverage software like Mendeley or Zotero to efficiently manage your references and receive updates related to your research interests.
  • Subscribe to Author Blogs and Newsletters:  Follow prominent researchers in your field to stay informed about their latest work and insights.
  • Join Online Communities and Forums:  Engage in discussions with fellow researchers to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and learn about emerging trends.

Staying updated on the latest literature is not a one-time task; it’s an ongoing process. By actively engaging with new developments and incorporating them into your research, you can ensure your literature review remains relevant, impactful, and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in your field.

How does the literature review process contribute to the overall rigor and validity of academic research

The literature review process plays a crucial role in ensuring the  rigor and validity  of academic research in several key ways;

1. Establishing Context and Foundation:  A comprehensive literature review provides the context and theoretical foundation for your research. It demonstrates your understanding of the existing body of knowledge, relevant debates, and established methodologies. This ensures your research isn’t conducted in isolation and builds upon existing knowledge, contributing to the overall understanding of your field.

2. Preventing Duplication and Redundancy:  By thoroughly exploring past research, you can identify areas where research is already saturated and avoid replicating what has already been done. This prevents unnecessary duplication of effort and ensures your research focuses on addressing genuine gaps in knowledge.

3. Justifying Your Research Question and Methodology:  The literature review allows you to justify the significance of your research question and the chosen methodology. You can demonstrate how your study addresses limitations in previous research, offers unique insights, or employs innovative approaches, ultimately contributing to the advancement of knowledge.

4. Identifying Potential Biases and Limitations:  A critical analysis of existing research helps you identify potential biases and limitations in previous studies. By acknowledging these limitations and outlining strategies to address them in your own research, you demonstrate awareness and enhance the trustworthiness of your findings.

5. Ensuring Transparency and Traceability:  The literature review showcases the sources and evidence upon which your research is built. This transparency allows other researchers to assess the validity of your arguments, replicate your findings, and build upon your work, contributing to the overall scientific process.

6. Building Credibility and Expertise:  A well-researched and well-presented literature review showcases your understanding of the field and your ability to critically evaluate existing knowledge. This establishes your credibility as a researcher and strengthens the impact of your findings.

7. Enhancing Argumentation and Communication:  Your knowledge gleaned from the literature review enriches your arguments by providing them with historical context, theoretical underpinnings, and comparisons to related work. This improves communication and ensures your research resonates with other scholars in the field.

8. Informing Data Analysis and Interpretation:  By understanding how past research has approached similar topics, you can develop a more informed approach to analyzing your own data and interpreting your findings. This helps you ensure your conclusions are well-grounded and supported by existing knowledge.

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What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship, demonstrating your understanding of the topic and showing how your work contributes to the ongoing conversation in the field. Learning how to write a literature review is a critical tool for successful research. Your ability to summarize and synthesize prior research pertaining to a certain topic demonstrates your grasp on the topic of study, and assists in the learning process. 

Table of Contents

  • What is the purpose of literature review? 
  • a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction: 
  • b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes: 
  • c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs: 
  • d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts: 
  • How to write a good literature review 
  • Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question: 
  • Decide on the Scope of Your Review: 
  • Select Databases for Searches: 
  • Conduct Searches and Keep Track: 
  • Review the Literature: 
  • Organize and Write Your Literature Review: 
  • Frequently asked questions 

What is a literature review?

A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the existing literature, establishes the context for their own research, and contributes to scholarly conversations on the topic. One of the purposes of a literature review is also to help researchers avoid duplicating previous work and ensure that their research is informed by and builds upon the existing body of knowledge.

discuss five importance of literature review

What is the purpose of literature review?

A literature review serves several important purposes within academic and research contexts. Here are some key objectives and functions of a literature review: 2  

  • Contextualizing the Research Problem: The literature review provides a background and context for the research problem under investigation. It helps to situate the study within the existing body of knowledge. 
  • Identifying Gaps in Knowledge: By identifying gaps, contradictions, or areas requiring further research, the researcher can shape the research question and justify the significance of the study. This is crucial for ensuring that the new research contributes something novel to the field. 
  • Understanding Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks: Literature reviews help researchers gain an understanding of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks used in previous studies. This aids in the development of a theoretical framework for the current research. 
  • Providing Methodological Insights: Another purpose of literature reviews is that it allows researchers to learn about the methodologies employed in previous studies. This can help in choosing appropriate research methods for the current study and avoiding pitfalls that others may have encountered. 
  • Establishing Credibility: A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with existing scholarship, establishing their credibility and expertise in the field. It also helps in building a solid foundation for the new research. 
  • Informing Hypotheses or Research Questions: The literature review guides the formulation of hypotheses or research questions by highlighting relevant findings and areas of uncertainty in existing literature. 

Literature review example

Let’s delve deeper with a literature review example: Let’s say your literature review is about the impact of climate change on biodiversity. You might format your literature review into sections such as the effects of climate change on habitat loss and species extinction, phenological changes, and marine biodiversity. Each section would then summarize and analyze relevant studies in those areas, highlighting key findings and identifying gaps in the research. The review would conclude by emphasizing the need for further research on specific aspects of the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. The following literature review template provides a glimpse into the recommended literature review structure and content, demonstrating how research findings are organized around specific themes within a broader topic. 

Literature Review on Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity:

Climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching consequences, including significant impacts on biodiversity. This literature review synthesizes key findings from various studies: 

a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction:

Climate change-induced alterations in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to habitat loss, affecting numerous species (Thomas et al., 2004). The review discusses how these changes increase the risk of extinction, particularly for species with specific habitat requirements. 

b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes:

Observations of range shifts and changes in the timing of biological events (phenology) are documented in response to changing climatic conditions (Parmesan & Yohe, 2003). These shifts affect ecosystems and may lead to mismatches between species and their resources. 

c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs:

The review explores the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, emphasizing ocean acidification’s threat to coral reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007). Changes in pH levels negatively affect coral calcification, disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. 

d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts:

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the literature review discusses various adaptive strategies adopted by species and conservation efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (Hannah et al., 2007). It emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary approaches for effective conservation planning. 

discuss five importance of literature review

How to write a good literature review

Writing a literature review involves summarizing and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. A good literature review format should include the following elements. 

Introduction: The introduction sets the stage for your literature review, providing context and introducing the main focus of your review. 

  • Opening Statement: Begin with a general statement about the broader topic and its significance in the field. 
  • Scope and Purpose: Clearly define the scope of your literature review. Explain the specific research question or objective you aim to address. 
  • Organizational Framework: Briefly outline the structure of your literature review, indicating how you will categorize and discuss the existing research. 
  • Significance of the Study: Highlight why your literature review is important and how it contributes to the understanding of the chosen topic. 
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude the introduction with a concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument or perspective you will develop in the body of the literature review. 

Body: The body of the literature review is where you provide a comprehensive analysis of existing literature, grouping studies based on themes, methodologies, or other relevant criteria. 

  • Organize by Theme or Concept: Group studies that share common themes, concepts, or methodologies. Discuss each theme or concept in detail, summarizing key findings and identifying gaps or areas of disagreement. 
  • Critical Analysis: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Discuss the methodologies used, the quality of evidence, and the overall contribution of each work to the understanding of the topic. 
  • Synthesis of Findings: Synthesize the information from different studies to highlight trends, patterns, or areas of consensus in the literature. 
  • Identification of Gaps: Discuss any gaps or limitations in the existing research and explain how your review contributes to filling these gaps. 
  • Transition between Sections: Provide smooth transitions between different themes or concepts to maintain the flow of your literature review. 

Conclusion: The conclusion of your literature review should summarize the main findings, highlight the contributions of the review, and suggest avenues for future research. 

  • Summary of Key Findings: Recap the main findings from the literature and restate how they contribute to your research question or objective. 
  • Contributions to the Field: Discuss the overall contribution of your literature review to the existing knowledge in the field. 
  • Implications and Applications: Explore the practical implications of the findings and suggest how they might impact future research or practice. 
  • Recommendations for Future Research: Identify areas that require further investigation and propose potential directions for future research in the field. 
  • Final Thoughts: Conclude with a final reflection on the importance of your literature review and its relevance to the broader academic community. 

what is a literature review

Conducting a literature review

Conducting a literature review is an essential step in research that involves reviewing and analyzing existing literature on a specific topic. It’s important to know how to do a literature review effectively, so here are the steps to follow: 1  

Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question:

  • Select a topic that is relevant to your field of study. 
  • Clearly define your research question or objective. Determine what specific aspect of the topic do you want to explore? 

Decide on the Scope of Your Review:

  • Determine the timeframe for your literature review. Are you focusing on recent developments, or do you want a historical overview? 
  • Consider the geographical scope. Is your review global, or are you focusing on a specific region? 
  • Define the inclusion and exclusion criteria. What types of sources will you include? Are there specific types of studies or publications you will exclude? 

Select Databases for Searches:

  • Identify relevant databases for your field. Examples include PubMed, IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. 
  • Consider searching in library catalogs, institutional repositories, and specialized databases related to your topic. 

Conduct Searches and Keep Track:

  • Develop a systematic search strategy using keywords, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and other search techniques. 
  • Record and document your search strategy for transparency and replicability. 
  • Keep track of the articles, including publication details, abstracts, and links. Use citation management tools like EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to organize your references. 

Review the Literature:

  • Evaluate the relevance and quality of each source. Consider the methodology, sample size, and results of studies. 
  • Organize the literature by themes or key concepts. Identify patterns, trends, and gaps in the existing research. 
  • Summarize key findings and arguments from each source. Compare and contrast different perspectives. 
  • Identify areas where there is a consensus in the literature and where there are conflicting opinions. 
  • Provide critical analysis and synthesis of the literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing research? 

Organize and Write Your Literature Review:

  • Literature review outline should be based on themes, chronological order, or methodological approaches. 
  • Write a clear and coherent narrative that synthesizes the information gathered. 
  • Use proper citations for each source and ensure consistency in your citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). 
  • Conclude your literature review by summarizing key findings, identifying gaps, and suggesting areas for future research. 

The literature review sample and detailed advice on writing and conducting a review will help you produce a well-structured report. But remember that a literature review is an ongoing process, and it may be necessary to revisit and update it as your research progresses. 

Frequently asked questions

A literature review is a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing literature (published and unpublished works) on a specific topic or research question and provides a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in a particular field. A well-conducted literature review is crucial for researchers to build upon existing knowledge, avoid duplication of efforts, and contribute to the advancement of their field. It also helps researchers situate their work within a broader context and facilitates the development of a sound theoretical and conceptual framework for their studies.

Literature review is a crucial component of research writing, providing a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. The aim is to keep professionals up to date by providing an understanding of ongoing developments within a specific field, including research methods, and experimental techniques used in that field, and present that knowledge in the form of a written report. Also, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the scholar in his or her field.  

Before writing a literature review, it’s essential to undertake several preparatory steps to ensure that your review is well-researched, organized, and focused. This includes choosing a topic of general interest to you and doing exploratory research on that topic, writing an annotated bibliography, and noting major points, especially those that relate to the position you have taken on the topic. 

Literature reviews and academic research papers are essential components of scholarly work but serve different purposes within the academic realm. 3 A literature review aims to provide a foundation for understanding the current state of research on a particular topic, identify gaps or controversies, and lay the groundwork for future research. Therefore, it draws heavily from existing academic sources, including books, journal articles, and other scholarly publications. In contrast, an academic research paper aims to present new knowledge, contribute to the academic discourse, and advance the understanding of a specific research question. Therefore, it involves a mix of existing literature (in the introduction and literature review sections) and original data or findings obtained through research methods. 

Literature reviews are essential components of academic and research papers, and various strategies can be employed to conduct them effectively. If you want to know how to write a literature review for a research paper, here are four common approaches that are often used by researchers.  Chronological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the chronological order of publication. It helps to trace the development of a topic over time, showing how ideas, theories, and research have evolved.  Thematic Review: Thematic reviews focus on identifying and analyzing themes or topics that cut across different studies. Instead of organizing the literature chronologically, it is grouped by key themes or concepts, allowing for a comprehensive exploration of various aspects of the topic.  Methodological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the research methods employed in different studies. It helps to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies and allows the reader to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research findings.  Theoretical Review: A theoretical review examines the literature based on the theoretical frameworks used in different studies. This approach helps to identify the key theories that have been applied to the topic and assess their contributions to the understanding of the subject.  It’s important to note that these strategies are not mutually exclusive, and a literature review may combine elements of more than one approach. The choice of strategy depends on the research question, the nature of the literature available, and the goals of the review. Additionally, other strategies, such as integrative reviews or systematic reviews, may be employed depending on the specific requirements of the research.

The literature review format can vary depending on the specific publication guidelines. However, there are some common elements and structures that are often followed. Here is a general guideline for the format of a literature review:  Introduction:   Provide an overview of the topic.  Define the scope and purpose of the literature review.  State the research question or objective.  Body:   Organize the literature by themes, concepts, or chronology.  Critically analyze and evaluate each source.  Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the studies.  Highlight any methodological limitations or biases.  Identify patterns, connections, or contradictions in the existing research.  Conclusion:   Summarize the key points discussed in the literature review.  Highlight the research gap.  Address the research question or objective stated in the introduction.  Highlight the contributions of the review and suggest directions for future research.

Both annotated bibliographies and literature reviews involve the examination of scholarly sources. While annotated bibliographies focus on individual sources with brief annotations, literature reviews provide a more in-depth, integrated, and comprehensive analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. The key differences are as follows: 

References 

  • Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review.  Journal of criminal justice education ,  24 (2), 218-234. 
  • Pan, M. L. (2016).  Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches . Taylor & Francis. 
  • Cantero, C. (2019). How to write a literature review.  San José State University Writing Center . 

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

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The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

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The Research Proposal

83 Components of the Literature Review

Krathwohl (2005) suggests and describes a variety of components to include in a research proposal.  The following sections present these components in a suggested template for you to follow in the preparation of your research proposal.

Introduction

The introduction sets the tone for what follows in your research proposal – treat it as the initial pitch of your idea.  After reading the introduction your reader should:

  • Understand what it is you want to do;
  • Have a sense of your passion for the topic;
  • Be excited about the study´s possible outcomes.

As you begin writing your research proposal it is helpful to think of the introduction as a narrative of what it is you want to do, written in one to three paragraphs.  Within those one to three paragraphs, it is important to briefly answer the following questions:

  • What is the central research problem?
  • How is the topic of your research proposal related to the problem?
  • What methods will you utilize to analyze the research problem?
  • Why is it important to undertake this research? What is the significance of your proposed research?  Why are the outcomes of your proposed research important, and to whom or to what are they important?

Note : You may be asked by your instructor to include an abstract with your research proposal.  In such cases, an abstract should provide an overview of what it is you plan to study, your main research question, a brief explanation of your methods to answer the research question, and your expected findings. All of this information must be carefully crafted in 150 to 250 words.  A word of advice is to save the writing of your abstract until the very end of your research proposal preparation.  If you are asked to provide an abstract, you should include 5-7 key words that are of most relevance to your study. List these in order of relevance.

Background and significance

The purpose of this section is to explain the context of your proposal and to describe, in detail, why it is important to undertake this research. Assume that the person or people who will read your research proposal know nothing or very little about the research problem.  While you do not need to include all knowledge you have learned about your topic in this section, it is important to ensure that you include the most relevant material that will help to explain the goals of your research.

While there are no hard and fast rules, you should attempt to address some or all of the following key points:

  • State the research problem and provide a more thorough explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction.
  • Present the rationale for the proposed research study. Clearly indicate why this research is worth doing.  Answer the “so what?” question.
  • Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by your research. Do not forget to explain how and in what ways your proposed research builds upon previous related research.
  • Explain how you plan to go about conducting your research.
  • Clearly identify the key or most relevant sources of research you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
  • Set the boundaries of your proposed research, in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you will study, but what will be excluded from your study.
  • Provide clear definitions of key concepts and terms. As key concepts and terms often have numerous definitions, make sure you state which definition you will be utilizing in your research.

Literature Review

This is the most time-consuming aspect in the preparation of your research proposal and it is a key component of the research proposal. As described in Chapter 5 , the literature review provides the background to your study and demonstrates the significance of the proposed research. Specifically, it is a review and synthesis of prior research that is related to the problem you are setting forth to investigate.  Essentially, your goal in the literature review is to place your research study within the larger whole of what has been studied in the past, while demonstrating to your reader that your work is original, innovative, and adds to the larger whole.

As the literature review is information dense, it is essential that this section be intelligently structured to enable your reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your study. However, this can be easier to state and harder to do, simply due to the fact there is usually a plethora of related research to sift through. Consequently, a good strategy for writing the literature review is to break the literature into conceptual categories or themes, rather than attempting to describe various groups of literature you reviewed.  Chapter V, “ The Literature Review ,” describes a variety of methods to help you organize the themes.

Here are some suggestions on how to approach the writing of your literature review:

  • Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they used, what they found, and what they recommended based upon their findings.
  • Do not be afraid to challenge previous related research findings and/or conclusions.
  • Assess what you believe to be missing from previous research and explain how your research fills in this gap and/or extends previous research

It is important to note that a significant challenge related to undertaking a literature review is knowing when to stop.  As such, it is important to know how to know when you have uncovered the key conceptual categories underlying your research topic.  Generally, when you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations, you can have confidence that you have covered all of the significant conceptual categories in your literature review.  However, it is also important to acknowledge that researchers often find themselves returning to the literature as they collect and analyze their data.  For example, an unexpected finding may develop as one collects and/or analyzes the data and it is important to take the time to step back and review the literature again, to ensure that no other researchers have found a similar finding.  This may include looking to research outside your field.

This situation occurred with one of the authors of this textbook´s research related to community resilience.  During the interviews, the researchers heard many participants discuss individual resilience factors and how they believed these individual factors helped make the community more resilient, overall.  Sheppard and Williams (2016) had not discovered these individual factors in their original literature review on community and environmental resilience. However, when they returned to the literature to search for individual resilience factors, they discovered a small body of literature in the child and youth psychology field. Consequently, Sheppard and Williams had to go back and add a new section to their literature review on individual resilience factors. Interestingly, their research appeared to be the first research to link individual resilience factors with community resilience factors.

Research design and methods

The objective of this section of the research proposal is to convince the reader that your overall research design and methods of analysis will enable you to solve the research problem you have identified and also enable you to accurately and effectively interpret the results of your research. Consequently, it is critical that the research design and methods section is well-written, clear, and logically organized.  This demonstrates to your reader that you know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.  Overall, you want to leave your reader feeling confident that you have what it takes to get this research study completed in a timely fashion.

Essentially, this section of the research proposal should be clearly tied to the specific objectives of your study; however, it is also important to draw upon and include examples from the literature review that relate to your design and intended methods.  In other words, you must clearly demonstrate how your study utilizes and builds upon past studies, as it relates to the research design and intended methods.  For example, what methods have been used by other researchers in similar studies?

While it is important to consider the methods that other researchers have employed, it is equally important, if not more so, to consider what methods have not been employed but could be.  Remember, the methods section is not simply a list of tasks to be undertaken. It is also an argument as to why and how the tasks you have outlined will help you investigate the research problem and answer your research question(s).

Tips for writing the research design and methods section:

  • Specify the methodological approaches you intend to employ to obtain information and the techniques you will use to analyze the data.
  • Specify the research operations you will undertake and he way you will interpret the results of those operations in relation to the research problem.
  • Go beyond stating what you hope to achieve through the methods you have chosen. State how you will actually do the methods (i.e. coding interview text, running regression analysis, etc.).
  • Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers you may encounter when undertaking your research and describe how you will address these barriers.
  • Explain where you believe you will find challenges related to data collection, including access to participants and information.

Preliminary suppositions and implications

The purpose of this section is to argue how and in what ways you anticipate that your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the area of your study. Depending upon the aims and objectives of your study, you should also discuss how your anticipated findings may impact future research.  For example, is it possible that your research may lead to a new policy, new theoretical understanding, or a new method for analyzing data?  How might your study influence future studies?  What might your study mean for future practitioners working in the field?  Who or what may benefit from your study?  How might your study contribute to social, economic, environmental issues?  While it is important to think about and discuss possibilities such as these, it is equally important to be realistic in stating your anticipated findings.  In other words, you do not want to delve into idle speculation.  Rather, the purpose here is to reflect upon gaps in the current body of literature and to describe how and in what ways you anticipate your research will begin to fill in some or all of those gaps.

The conclusion reiterates the importance and significance of your research proposal and it provides a brief summary of the entire proposed study.  Essentially, this section should only be one or two paragraphs in length. Here is a potential outline for your conclusion:

  • Discuss why the study should be done. Specifically discuss how you expect your study will advance existing knowledge and how your study is unique.
  • Explain the specific purpose of the study and the research questions that the study will answer.
  • Explain why the research design and methods chosen for this study are appropriate, and why other design and methods were not chosen.
  • State the potential implications you expect to emerge from your proposed study,
  • Provide a sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship currently in existence related to the research problem.

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your research proposal.  In a research proposal, this can take two forms: a reference list or a bibliography.  A reference list does what the name suggests, it lists the literature you referenced in the body of your research proposal.  All references in the reference list, must appear in the body of the research proposal.  Remember, it is not acceptable to say “as cited in …”  As a researcher you must always go to the original source and check it for yourself.  Many errors are made in referencing, even by top researchers, and so it is important not to perpetuate an error made by someone else. While this can be time consuming, it is the proper way to undertake a literature review.

In contrast, a bibliography , is a list of everything you used or cited in your research proposal, with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem.  In other words, sources cited in your bibliography may not necessarily appear in the body of your research proposal.  Make sure you check with your instructor to see which of the two you are expected to produce.

Overall, your list of citations should be a testament to the fact that you have done a sufficient level of preliminary research to ensure that your project will complement, but not duplicate, previous research efforts. For social sciences, the reference list or bibliography should be prepared in American Psychological Association (APA) referencing format. Usually, the reference list (or bibliography) is not included in the word count of the research proposal. Again, make sure you check with your instructor to confirm.

An Introduction to Research Methods in Sociology Copyright © 2019 by Valerie A. Sheppard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  1. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  2. 5 Reasons the Literature Review Is Crucial to Your Paper

    Reason #3: Setting a Theoretical Framework. It can help to think of the literature review as the foundations for your study, since the rest of your work will build upon the ideas and existing research you discuss therein. A crucial part of this is formulating a theoretical framework, which comprises the concepts and theories that your work is ...

  3. Why is it important to do a literature review in research?

    "A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a precondition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research". Boote and Baile 2005 . Authors of manuscripts treat writing a literature review as a routine work or a mere formality. But a seasoned one knows the purpose and importance of a well-written literature review.

  4. What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

    A literature review is a critical summary and evaluation of the existing research (e.g., academic journal articles and books) on a specific topic. It is typically included as a separate section or chapter of a research paper or dissertation, serving as a contextual framework for a study.

  5. Importance of a Good Literature Review

    A literature review is not only a summary of key sources, but has an organizational pattern which combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem.

  6. Literature Review in Research Writing

    A literature review is a study - or, more accurately, a survey - involving scholarly material, with the aim to discuss published information about a specific topic or research question. Therefore, to write a literature review, it is compulsory that you are a real expert in the object of study. The results and findings will be published and ...

  7. 5. The Literature Review

    A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that ...

  8. Conducting a Literature Review: Why Do A Literature Review?

    Besides the obvious reason for students -- because it is assigned! -- a literature review helps you explore the research that has come before you, to see how your research question has (or has not) already been addressed. You identify: core research in the field. experts in the subject area. methodology you may want to use (or avoid)

  9. What is a literature review?

    A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important ...

  10. Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide

    Example: Predictors and Outcomes of U.S. Quality Maternity Leave: A Review and Conceptual Framework: 10.1177/08948453211037398 ; Systematic review: "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139).

  11. Approaching literature review for academic purposes: The Literature

    Therefore, this paper discusses the purposes of LRs in dissertations and theses. Second, the paper considers five steps for developing a review: defining the main topic, searching the literature, analyzing the results, writing the review and reflecting on the writing. Ultimately, this study proposes a twelve-item LR checklist.

  12. Writing a literature review

    A formal literature review is an evidence-based, in-depth analysis of a subject. There are many reasons for writing one and these will influence the length and style of your review, but in essence a literature review is a critical appraisal of the current collective knowledge on a subject. Rather than just being an exhaustive list of all that ...

  13. Purpose of a Literature Review

    The purpose of a literature review is to: Provide a foundation of knowledge on a topic; Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication and give credit to other researchers; Identify inconstancies: gaps in research, conflicts in previous studies, open questions left from other research;

  14. Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

    A literature review is important because it: Explains the background of research on a topic. Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area. ... If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates. 2. Decide on the scope of your review.

  15. Conducting a Literature Review

    While there might be many reasons for conducting a literature review, following are four key outcomes of doing the review. Assessment of the current state of research on a topic. This is probably the most obvious value of the literature review. Once a researcher has determined an area to work with for a research project, a search of relevant ...

  16. The Literature Review: A Foundation for High-Quality Medical Education

    Purpose and Importance of the Literature Review. An understanding of the current literature is critical for all phases of a research study. Lingard 9 recently invoked the "journal-as-conversation" metaphor as a way of understanding how one's research fits into the larger medical education conversation. As she described it: "Imagine yourself joining a conversation at a social event.

  17. The Importance of Literature Review in Research Writing

    A literature review helps you create a sense of rapport with your audience or readers so they can trust that you have done your homework. As a result, they can give you credit for your due diligence: you have done your fact-finding and fact-checking mission, one of the initial steps of any research writing.

  18. The Importance of Literature Review in Academic Writing

    The literature review holds paramount importance in academic writing for several reasons. Firstly, it serves as a comprehensive survey of existing research, establishing a solid foundation for the author's work. It helps identify gaps, trends, and debates in the chosen field, guiding researchers toward relevant and valuable contributions.

  19. What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

    A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship ...

  20. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

  21. Why Is Literature Review Important? (3 Benefits Explained)

    Key Takeaways. Writing a literature review is important for the following reasons: It demonstrates that you understand the issue you're investigating. A literature review allows you to develop a more theoretical framework for your research. It justifies your research and shows the gaps present in the current literature.

  22. Components of the Literature Review

    This is the most time-consuming aspect in the preparation of your research proposal and it is a key component of the research proposal. As described in Chapter 5, the literature review provides the background to your study and demonstrates the significance of the proposed research. Specifically, it is a review and synthesis of prior research ...

  23. Zinc Deficiency as a General Feature of Cancer: a Review of the Literature

    Trace elements are minerals that are present in very low concentrations in the human body and yet are crucial for a wide range of physiological functions. Zinc, the second most abundant trace element, is obtained primarily from the diet. After being taken up in the intestine, zinc is distributed to various target organs, where it plays key roles in processes such as immunity, protein folding ...