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Literature Review: What is a Literature Review?

Not Just for Graduate Students!

A literature review is an in-depth critical analysis of published scholarly research related to a specific topic.Published scholarly research (the "literature") may include journal articles, books, book chapters, dissertations and thesis, or conference proceedings. 

A solid lit review must:

  • be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you're developing
  • synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • formulate questions that need further research

Why Conduct a Literature Review?

  • to distinguish what has been done from what needs to be done
  • to discover important variables relevant to the topic
  • to synthesize and gain new perspective
  • to identify relationships between ideas and practices
  • to establish the context of the topic
  • to rationalize the significance of the problem
  • to enhance and acquire subject vocabulary
  • to understand the structure of the subject
  • tp relate ideas and theory to applications
  • to identify main methodologies and research techniques that have been used
  • to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-art development

Questions to Consider

  • What is the overarching question or problem your literature review seeks to address?
  • How much familiarity do you already have with the field? Are you already familiar with common methodologies or professional vocabularies?
  • What types of strategies or questions have others in your field pursued?
  • How will you synthesize or summarize the information you gather?
  • What do you or others perceive to be lacking in your field?
  • Is your topic broad? How could it be narrowed?
  • Can you articulate why your topic is important in your field?


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