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Education Resources and Services: Literature Review: Overview

What is a Literature Review?

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A literature review evaluates the information within any published literature related to the topic or research question you choose. The literature review is meant to analyze the published literature related to your topic. A literature reviews reflects upon what has already been written about (methodical or theoretical), what the existing literature contributes to the field, and how your topic corresponds with the literature. If your topic exposes a gap in the existing research in your field, make note of that in the literature review.

This page will help you get started on how to conduct a literature review.

Resources About Literature Reviews

Why are Literature Reviews Written?

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Here are some of the reasons why a literature review is important:

  • Provides background information on the research produced around a topic.
  • Helps focus your own research questions or problems.
  • Discovers similarities between research already conducted.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, researches related to a topic as well as the significance of the research.
  • Challenges biases and assumptions related to the subject matter.
  • Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches. This can help with future research ideas.

Literature Review vs. Annotated Bibliography vs. Research Paper

Literature Review; Annotated Bibliography; Research Paper;

Literature reviews are often confused with annotated bibliographies and research papers.

Literature review: reviews the existing literature on your topic, identifies major themes and concepts, examines critical research gaps for the field, and sets the scene for what your research topic will discuss.

Annotated Bibliography: summarizes each article you reviewed for your paper under its citation, and explains why the information in the article is useful for your argument.

Research Paper: Creates an argument to support one side of your research topic and selects articles and other resources to support your argument.

Planning Your Literature Review

Knowing where to begin with literature reviews is not always the easiest. Keep in mind that leaving enough time to develop your research question and reviewing your sources is essential. It is best to start early in your process. 

Here are some tips to help guide your planning and writing process:

  • Explore various research questions that touch upon topics you are interested in.
  • Choose your topic and define a research question.
  • Search in our databases to gather research articles discussing your topic.
  • Read through and analyze the literature you found. Seek out similar themes or other information you are looking for.
  • Write your review!

Developing Your Research Question

Brainstorming about your research question is important. Here are some questions to consider when reading through the literature you chose and finalizing your research question:

  • What interested you in this topic? What are you curious about when thinking of this topic?
  • What is already known about the topic?
  • How much research has been conducted on this topic?
  • Are there any gaps in research that you noticed?
  • Do researchers typically use theoretical or methodical approaches to this subject? Why? Can it be done the other way?
    • What do you want to focus on?
  • Is there a specific time frame you are limiting this review to? (e.g. Last 10 years, last 5 years, etc.)

There are many more questions you could ask, but these are just a few to get you started.