Liberty University Online Writing Center
A review of literature is a critical analysis of a portion of the published body of knowledge available through the use of summary, classification, and comparison of previous research studies, reviews of literature, and journal articles (Subject Guides, n.d.). This handout discusses the reasons for writing a literature review and presents its various requirements. It examines what a literature review is, as well as what it is not; it distinguishes between the literature review and the annotated bibliography. Like many academic writing assignments, there is not one universal standard for writing a literature review. Its format can differ from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment. There is, however, an overall structure that is commonly used across various disciplines, and this format is examined in more detail. The handout concludes with some helpful “tips and tricks” for preparing a literature review.
Disclaimer: The content of a literature review may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment. The literature review content recommended in this handout is that which is most commonly included. If in doubt about what you should include in your literature review, please consult your professor.
Literature Review Handout
Defining a Literature Review
What is a literature review? A literature review examines the current scholarly work available on a particular subject, perhaps within a given time period (“Writing Center Handouts,” n.d.). It is not merely a summation of the existing work; its purpose is to analyze critically the applicable “published body of knowledge” (“The Writer’s Handbook,” n.d.) in order to establish the current knowledge of that topic (“Subject Guides,” n.d.). The literature review is more than a survey of various sources, but it is not a book review (“Subject Guides,” n.d.). It is the summary and synthesis of material gathered from various sources and organized to address an issue, research objective, or problem statement (“Writing Center Handouts,” n.d.). A well-written literature review may even state what research has yet to be done (“Writing Center Handouts,” n.d.). A literature review, then, must do these things: be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question being developed 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 (Taylor and Procter, n.d.).
Why do a literature review? A literature review gives an overview of a specific field of inquiry (“Writing a Literature Review, n.d.). It asks questions concerning the prevailing theories and hypotheses, the key researchers, the current state of the research, and the methods and methodologies being used (“Writing a Literature Review, n.d.). The literature review helps the potential researcher identify the research question, focus the topic of inquiry, understand the makeup of a particular research question, understand an idea’s genetic roots, and understand the “current conceptual landscape” (“Literature Review,” n.d.). In other words, the literature review shows the potential researcher how prevailing ideas fit into his/her own thesis and how 3| Page
his/her thesis agrees or differs from them (“Writing a Literature Review, n.d.). It also points out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study (“The Writer’s Handbook,” n.d.). What are the differences? How does a literature review differ from other writing assignments? A literature review is not a research paper, although, like other forms of expository writing, it does use well-formed paragraphs and a logical structure. However, where a research paper uses relevant literature to support the discussion...