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Literature Review Research Strategies

This guide provides an overview and "how to" instructions for doing a literature review

Developing Your Skills

In addition to enlarging your knowledge about the topic, writing a literature review lets you gain and demonstrate skills in two areas:

Information Seeking: the ability to scan the literature efficiently, using manual or computerized methods, to identify a set of useful articles and books

Critical Appraisal: the ability to apply principles of analysis to identify unbiased and valid studies.

Purpose of a Literature Review

The purpose for writing a literature review is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, including their strengths and weaknesses.

It 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 or annotations.

A literature review must:

  1. be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
  2. synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  3. identify areas of controversy in the literature
  4. formulate questions that need further research

- Adapted from Dena Taylor, The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It.  University of Toronto, Health Sciences Writing Centre.

Writing a Literature Review is Different Than Writing a Research Paper

A literature review is different than most other papers you've written.  In most papers, you have a thesis statement and you find sources of information to support your thesis, or you may simply summarize and/or critique individual information resources, like in an annotated bibiliography. 

In a literature review, you're writing about the literature itself.  Yes, you still have an overarching topic and you do provide a summary of the sources as a whole, but in this case you're also analyzing and critiquing the literature itself, showing relationships between sources and theories, as well as how it relates to the subject.  

"Summarize and explain what research has been done on the topic, citing the sources as you mention them. Point out the different ways researchers have treated the topic. Point out any connections between the sources especially where one source built upon prior study. Explain how this past work fits together to make your research question significant. Your literature review should present your synthesis of previous research and lay the foundation for understanding your research and appreciating its value." 

- Washington and Lee University.  How do you write a literature review?  2007