A literature review is a systematic examination of the existing research on a particular topic. It acknowledges the work of previous researchers and puts that work in the context of a particular research problem. It is often used to provide the framework for a particular topic. A good literature review will incorporate the following:
Additionally, writing a literature review demonstrates that you are familiar with the scholarly body of work in your area of interest. It is usually written in essay style and is often organized by themes or trends in the research.
When writing a literature review, your observations and analysis of the research you are describing are expected. If someone is reading your review, they don't want to have to go read all of the original articles. You should have fair summations of what each article you're describing concluded and be able to describe how that conclusion is or is not relevant/important.
Literature reviews should not be persuasive arguments. They don't pick sides, but discuss the points of views on all sides of a debate/issue.
It is not a list of resources, a bibliography, or an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to resources that includes a brief descriptive or evaluative summary of that resource. It is generally arranged alphabetically.
Writing a literature review will take time. You have to collect and analyze multiple articles, books, etc. to ensure you are reviewing all the research relevant to your topic, so it best to start early. The process of writing a literature review usually involves the following steps:
Steps 4 and 5 are interchangeable. You'll want to manage your citations and searches as you go so you don't have to repeat your work.
Before you begin writing your literature review, I recommend reading a few, particularly those in your topic field.
Want to see an example of a literature review?
The below chart, called Copper's Taxonomy, lists some questions you should ask yourself before beginning a Literature Review.
For example, the first row, "FOCUS," is asking what outcomes, methods, theories or practices your literature review is about. Are you tracking the outcomes of previous studies, the methods that have been used over time, or something else?
Using this chart can help you organize your thoughts both before and as you perform your research.
|CHARACTERISTIC||CATEGORIES (only some will apply)|
Practices or Applications
(b) Conflict Resolution
(c) Linguistic bridge-building
Identification of Central Issues
Espousal of Position
Exhaustive with Selective Citation
Central or Pivotal
Practitioners or Policymakers
Source: “Organizing Knowledge Synthesis: A Taxonomy of Literature Reviews,” by H.M. Cooper, 1988, Knowledge in Society, 1, p. 109.
These are questions to consider when doing your research. They don't all need to be answered, but they will help you focus your research: