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Literature Review

Definition of a literature review: "A literature review is both a summary and explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a limited topic as found in academic books and journal articles. It is NOT an annotated bibliography" or a just a description of what you read. (Mongan-Rallis, 2014)

Purpose of a literature review: "The primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research." (Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008)

Steps for Writing a Literature Review

  • Decide on a topic
  • Identify and review the literature
    • An "arsenal" of good keywords is imperative for your literature search
  • Analyze the literature
  • Summarize the literature
  • Synthesize the literature prior to writing the review
  • Write the review
    • Introduction, body, conclusion

Elements of a Good Literature Review


  • Defines or identifies the topic, issue, or area of concern and why it is important.
  • Points out trends in what has been published about the topic, or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship.
  • Includes major theorists and landmark theories.
  • States the reason (and point of view) for writing the review; explains the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review; mentions the scope of the literature (what is included and not included).


  • Categorizes and organizes the literature (empirical research, theory, meta analyses) in similar group. For example, qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, chronological, etc.
  • Summarizes individual studies or articles.
  • Provides the reader with strong "umbrella" sentences at the beginnings of paragraphs, "signposts" throughout, and brief "so what" summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analysis


  • Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles
  • Point out major methodological flaws or gaps in the research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas for future study.

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