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Organizing a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

What is a literature review?

A literature review synthesizes important scholarship relevant to a topic, from books, journal articles, conference proceedings, and other sources. The "lit. review" establishes credibility by demonstrating that the authors are knowledgeable of previous research in the field. In a lit review, the author critically appraises the literature, draws conclusions, and shares their opinion of the relevant published literature.

A typical literature review accomplishes many of the following:

  •     Rationalizes the significance of the research question
  •     Establishes the context of the topic
  •     Traces intellectual progression of research in the field
  •     Summarizes, discusses, and analyses previously published research on the topic
  •     Defines subject vocabulary
  •     Identifies main methodologies and research techniques that have been used
  •     Relates ideas and theory to applications/practices
  •     Places the current work within the context of earlier related research
  •     Distinguishes what has been done from what needs to be done

Most scholarly writing includes a Literature Review section that typically follows an Introduction and comes before the Methods. Sometimes, literature reviews are included in the Introduction section instead. When in doubt, look for the section that has the densest concentration of works cited (references, footnotes, or endnotes).

Literature reviews may also be a stand-alone assignment or publication. These may be "review articles" or evidence-based synthesis (such as systematic reviews). For more information on these types of literature reviews, see Review Articles.

More background


The Literature Review sections in these articles serve as good examples.  Connect through the VPN if off campus.

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