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Literature Reviews

This guide will define what a literature review is and provide examples for constructing literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and health sciences.

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Lit Review Defined

What is a literature review?
A literature review is an objective, yet critical, survey of published scholarly research that provides an overview of a particular topic. Literature reviews are a collection of the most relevant and significant publications regarding that topic in order to provide a comprehensive look at what has been said on the topic and by whom. The basic components of a literature review include:

  • a description of the article
  • a summary of the main points
  • a discussion of gaps in research
  • an evaluation of its contribution to the field

What is the difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography?
An annotated bibliography is a list of your references with a summary of the content and the publication’s relationship to your research question. Each summary is usually around 150 words. A literature review is an overview of the topic, an explanation of how publications differ from one another, and an examination of how each publication contributes to the discussion and understanding of the topic.

What is the purpose of a literature review?
The purpose of a literature review is to document your research and to provide a review of writings on the given topic in order to establish the reviewer’s own position in the existing field of scholarship on that topic. A literature review provides a reader with background information, definitions of common terminology as well as a comprehensive look at previous research publications prior to the defense the reviewer will be making in his/her own research paper, thesis, or dissertation. In short, a literature review shows readers where the reviewer is entering and contributing to the academic conversation on a particular topic in the context of existing scholarship.

Source: Ashford University (2019). Writing a literature review. https://writingcenter.ashford.edu/writing-literature-review

Types of Lit Reviews

The most common types of lit reviews are:

Stand-alone literature review articles. These provide an overview and analysis of the current state of research on a topic or question. The goal is to evaluate and compare previous research on a topic to provide an analysis of what is currently known, and also to reveal controversies, weaknesses, and gaps in current work, thus pointing to directions for future research. Writing a stand-alone review is often an effective way to get a good handle on a topic and to develop ideas for your own research program. For example, contrasting theoretical approaches or conflicting interpretations of findings can be the basis of your research project: can you find evidence supporting one interpretation against another, or can you propose an alternative interpretation that overcomes their limitations?
 

Part of a research proposal. This could be a proposal for a senior thesis or a class project. It could also be a submission for a grant. The literature review, by pointing out the current issues and questions concerning a topic, is a crucial part of demonstrating how your proposed research will contribute to the field, and thus of convincing your thesis committee to allow you to pursue the topic of your interest or a funding agency to pay for your research efforts.
 

Part of a research report. When you finish your research and write your thesis or paper to present your findings, it should include a literature review to provide the context to which your work is a contribution. Your report, in addition to detailing the methods, results, etc. of your research, should show how your work relates to others' work. 

Source: MSU Billings Library (2019). How to write a literature review: What is a literature review. https://libguides.msubillings.edu/litreview