How to write a literature review
What is a literature review
The literature review is a written overview of major writings and other sources on a selected topic. Sources covered in the review may include scholarly journal articles, books, government reports, Web sites, etc. The literature review provides a description, summary and evaluation of each source. It is usually presented as a distinct section of a graduate thesis or dissertation.
Purpose of the literature review
The purpose of the literature review is to provide a critical written account of the current state of research on a selected topic:
- Identifies areas of prior scholarship
- Places each source in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the specific issue, area of research, or theory under review.
- Describes the relationship of each source to the others that you have selected
- Identifies new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research
- Points the way forward for further research.
Components of the literature review
The literature review should include the following:
- Objective of the literature review
- Overview of the subject under consideration.
- Clear categorization of sources selected into those in support of your
- particular position, those opposed, and those offering completely different arguments.
- Discussion of both the distinctiveness of each source and its similarities with the others.
Steps in the literature review process
Preparation of a literature review may be divided into four steps:
- Define your subject and the scope of the review.
- Search the library catalogue, subject specific databases and other search tools to find sources that are relevant to your topic.
- Read and evaluate the sources and to determine their suitability to the understanding of topic at hand (see the Evaluating sources section).
- Analyse, interpret and discuss the findings and conclusions of the sources you selected.
In assessing each source, consideration should be given to:
- What is the author's expertise in this particular field of study (credentials)?
- Are the author's arguments supported by empirical evidence (e.g. quantitative/qualitative studies)?
- Is the author's perspective too biased in one direction or are opposing studies and viewpoints also considered?
- Does the selected source contribute to a more profound understanding of the subject?
Examples of a published literature review
Literature reviews are often published as scholarly articles, books, and reports. Here is an example of a recent literature review published as a scholarly journal article:
Ledesma, M. C., & Calderón, D. (2015). Critical race theory in education: A review of past literature and a look to the future. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 206-222. Link to the article
Additional sources on writing literature reviews
Further information on the literature review process may be found below:
- Booth, A., Papaioannou, D., & Sutton, A. (2012). Systematic approaches to a successful literature review
- Fink, A. (2010). Conducting research literature reviews: From the Internet to paper
- Galvin, J. (2006). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences
- Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2012). The literature review: Six steps to success
Adapted with permission and thanks from How to Write a Literature Review originally created by Kenneth Lyons, McHenry Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.