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Literature Reviews  

This guide helps patrons conduct literature reviews for theses, dissertations, or other research projects.
Last Updated: Jul 29, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Books from the Catalog



Telling a Research Story: Writing a Literature Review - Feak Christine B. and John M. Swales
Call Number: LB2369 .F43 2009
ISBN: 9780472033362

Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis: A Step-By-Step Approach. - Cooper, H.
Call Number: H62 .C5859 2010
ISBN: 9781412937054

Integrating Research: A Guide for Reviews - Cooper, Harrris M.
Call Number: LB1047.3 .M33 2009
ISBN: 0803934300

The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success - Machi, L.A
Call Number: LB1047.3 .M33 2009
ISBN: 9781412961349

The literature Review : A Step-by-step Guide for Students - Ridley, Diana
Call Number: LB2369 .R525 2008

Doing a Literature Review. Releasing the Social Science Research Imaginatio - Hart, Chris
Call Number: H62 .H2566 1998
ISBN: 0761959742



1. Introduction
Not to be confused with a book review, a literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.
2. Components
Similar to primary research, development of the literature review requires four stages:

  • Problem formulation—which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues?
  • Literature search—finding materials relevant to the subject being explored
  • Data evaluation—determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic
  • Analysis and interpretation—discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature

Literature reviews should comprise the following elements:

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)
  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

In assessing each piece, consideration should be given to:

  • Provenance—What are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings)?
  • Objectivity—Is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness—Which of the author's theses are most/least convincing?
  • Value—Are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

3. Definition and Use/Purpose
A literature review may constitute an essential chapter of a thesis or dissertation, or may be a self-contained review of writings on a subject. In either case, its purpose is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration
  • Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort
  • Point the way forward for further research
  • Place one's original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of existing literature

The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.
An annotated example of a literature review may be found at:

Find published, peer-reviewed literature reviews in your field by searching the Ebsco Host, JStore, or Scopus Databases. Search "Literature Review" (title) and "Your area of interest." 

Subject Guide

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Alison Regan, Ph.D.
Contact Info
Associate Librarian
Head of Scholarship and Education Services

J. Willard Marriott Library
(801) 581-3883


"Developing a Literature Review for Graduate Students" is offered by the Marriott Library Education Services Department.




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