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(social sciences) A formal, reflective survey of the most significant and relevant works of published and peer-reviewed academic research on a particular topic, summarizing and discussing their findings and methodologies in order to reflect the current state of knowledge in the field and the key questions raised. Literature reviews do not themselves present any previously unpublished research. They may be published as review articles in academic journals or as an element in a thesis or dissertation: in the case of the latter, they serve to situate the current study within the field.

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Writing a literature review, what is research, what is a literature review, identify your research question.

  • Step 1: Establish the scope of your review
  • Step 2: Finding sources
  • Step 3: Taking notes
  • Step 4: Evaluating information
  • Step 5: Organizing the review
  • Step 6: Writing the review
  • Step 7: Creating the reference page
  • Practical Tips
  • Help make this guide better!

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  • " careful or diligent search " or the " collection of information on a particular topic ".   Merriam-Webster online
  • " t he systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions."     Google dictionary 
  • " a form of disciplined inquiry that involves studying something in a planned manner and reporting it so that other inquirers can potentially replicate the process if they choose"  .... Frey, L. et al. (2000). Investigating communication: An introduction to research methods. USA: Allyn and Bacon.

A literature review, in academic writing, is the process used by the researcher to: 

  • learn what has been done on a topic
  • determine who is writing on the topic
  • establish opinions about the topic
  • analyze the information presented on the topic
  • Identify what the study is about
  • Identify where the study takes place
  • Identify why the study takes place
  • Identify who is involved
  • Identify why the study is valuable
  • Identify how you are going to approach the study

Additional sources:

How to develop a good research question?

Narrowing a topic and writing a research question

  • Next: Step 1: Establish the scope of your review >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 11, 2020 12:43 PM
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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Literature Reviews

Introduction, what is a literature review.

  • Literature Reviews for Thesis or Dissertation
  • Stand-alone and Systemic Reviews
  • Purposes of a Literature Review
  • Texts on Conducting a Literature Review
  • Identifying the Research Topic
  • The Persuasive Argument
  • Searching the Literature
  • Creating a Synthesis
  • Critiquing the Literature
  • Building the Case for the Literature Review Document
  • Presenting the Literature Review

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  • Higher Education Research
  • Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis in Education
  • Methodologies for Conducting Education Research
  • Mixed Methods Research
  • Philosophy of Education
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Literature Reviews by Lawrence A. Machi , Brenda T. McEvoy LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021 LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0169

Literature reviews play a foundational role in the development and execution of a research project. They provide access to the academic conversation surrounding the topic of the proposed study. By engaging in this scholarly exercise, the researcher is able to learn and to share knowledge about the topic. The literature review acts as the springboard for new research, in that it lays out a logically argued case, founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about the topic. The case produced provides the justification for the research question or problem of a proposed study, and the methodological scheme best suited to conduct the research. It can also be a research project in itself, arguing policy or practice implementation, based on a comprehensive analysis of the research in a field. The term literature review can refer to the output or the product of a review. It can also refer to the process of Conducting a Literature Review . Novice researchers, when attempting their first research projects, tend to ask two questions: What is a Literature Review? How do you do one? While this annotated bibliography is neither definitive nor exhaustive in its treatment of the subject, it is designed to provide a beginning researcher, who is pursuing an academic degree, an entry point for answering the two previous questions. The article is divided into two parts. The first four sections of the article provide a general overview of the topic. They address definitions, types, purposes, and processes for doing a literature review. The second part presents the process and procedures for doing a literature review. Arranged in a sequential fashion, the remaining eight sections provide references addressing each step of the literature review process. References included in this article were selected based on their ability to assist the beginning researcher. Additionally, the authors attempted to include texts from various disciplines in social science to present various points of view on the subject.

Novice researchers often have a misguided perception of how to do a literature review and what the document should contain. Literature reviews are not narrative annotated bibliographies nor book reports (see Bruce 1994 ). Their form, function, and outcomes vary, due to how they depend on the research question, the standards and criteria of the academic discipline, and the orthodoxies of the research community charged with the research. The term literature review can refer to the process of doing a review as well as the product resulting from conducting a review. The product resulting from reviewing the literature is the concern of this section. Literature reviews for research studies at the master’s and doctoral levels have various definitions. Machi and McEvoy 2016 presents a general definition of a literature review. Lambert 2012 defines a literature review as a critical analysis of what is known about the study topic, the themes related to it, and the various perspectives expressed regarding the topic. Fink 2010 defines a literature review as a systematic review of existing body of data that identifies, evaluates, and synthesizes for explicit presentation. Jesson, et al. 2011 defines the literature review as a critical description and appraisal of a topic. Hart 1998 sees the literature review as producing two products: the presentation of information, ideas, data, and evidence to express viewpoints on the nature of the topic, as well as how it is to be investigated. When considering literature reviews beyond the novice level, Ridley 2012 defines and differentiates the systematic review from literature reviews associated with primary research conducted in academic degree programs of study, including stand-alone literature reviews. Cooper 1998 states the product of literature review is dependent on the research study’s goal and focus, and defines synthesis reviews as literature reviews that seek to summarize and draw conclusions from past empirical research to determine what issues have yet to be resolved. Theoretical reviews compare and contrast the predictive ability of theories that explain the phenomenon, arguing which theory holds the most validity in describing the nature of that phenomenon. Grant and Booth 2009 identified fourteen types of reviews used in both degree granting and advanced research projects, describing their attributes and methodologies.

Bruce, Christine Susan. 1994. Research students’ early experiences of the dissertation literature review. Studies in Higher Education 19.2: 217–229.

DOI: 10.1080/03075079412331382057

A phenomenological analysis was conducted with forty-one neophyte research scholars. The responses to the questions, “What do you mean when you use the words literature review?” and “What is the meaning of a literature review for your research?” identified six concepts. The results conclude that doing a literature review is a problem area for students.

Cooper, Harris. 1998. Synthesizing research . Vol. 2. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

The introductory chapter of this text provides a cogent explanation of Cooper’s understanding of literature reviews. Chapter 4 presents a comprehensive discussion of the synthesis review. Chapter 5 discusses meta-analysis and depth.

Fink, Arlene. 2010. Conducting research literature reviews: From the Internet to paper . 3d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

The first chapter of this text (pp. 1–16) provides a short but clear discussion of what a literature review is in reference to its application to a broad range of social sciences disciplines and their related professions.

Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. 2009. A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal 26.2: 91–108. Print.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

This article reports a scoping review that was conducted using the “Search, Appraisal, Synthesis, and Analysis” (SALSA) framework. Fourteen literature review types and associated methodology make up the resulting typology. Each type is described by its key characteristics and analyzed for its strengths and weaknesses.

Hart, Chris. 1998. Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination . London: SAGE.

Chapter 1 of this text explains Hart’s definition of a literature review. Additionally, it describes the roles of the literature review, the skills of a literature reviewer, and the research context for a literature review. Of note is Hart’s discussion of the literature review requirements for master’s degree and doctoral degree work.

Jesson, Jill, Lydia Matheson, and Fiona M. Lacey. 2011. Doing your literature review: Traditional and systematic techniques . Los Angeles: SAGE.

Chapter 1: “Preliminaries” provides definitions of traditional and systematic reviews. It discusses the differences between them. Chapter 5 is dedicated to explaining the traditional review, while Chapter 7 explains the systematic review. Chapter 8 provides a detailed description of meta-analysis.

Lambert, Mike. 2012. A beginner’s guide to doing your education research project . Los Angeles: SAGE.

Chapter 6 (pp. 79–100) presents a thumbnail sketch for doing a literature review.

Machi, Lawrence A., and Brenda T. McEvoy. 2016. The literature review: Six steps to success . 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

The introduction of this text differentiates between a simple and an advanced review and concisely defines a literature review.

Ridley, Diana. 2012. The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students . 2d ed. Sage Study Skills. London: SAGE.

In the introductory chapter, Ridley reviews many definitions of the literature review, literature reviews at the master’s and doctoral level, and placement of literature reviews within the thesis or dissertation document. She also defines and differentiates literature reviews produced for degree-affiliated research from the more advanced systematic review projects.

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Literature Reviews - An Introduction: Definition

  • How do I recognize a Literature Review?
  • How do I find a Literature Review?
  • How do I write a Literature Review?

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Literature review: definition and example.

A Literature Review is "a systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners."

 - From Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From Internet to Paper , by Arlene Fink, 2nd ed. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, 2005.

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What does Literature review mean?

Definitions for literature review lit·er·a·ture re·view, this dictionary definitions page includes all the possible meanings, example usage and translations of the word literature review ., wikipedia rate this definition: 2.0 / 2 votes.

  • Literature review

A literature review or narrative review is a type of review article. A literature review is a scholarly paper, which includes the current knowledge including substantive findings, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and do not report new or original experimental work. Most often associated with academic-oriented literature, such reviews are found in academic journals, and are not to be confused with book reviews that may also appear in the same publication. Literature reviews are a basis for research in nearly every academic field. A narrow-scope literature review may be included as part of a peer-reviewed journal article presenting new research, serving to situate the current study within the body of the relevant literature and to provide context for the reader. In such a case, the review usually precedes the methodology and results sections of the work. Producing a literature review may also be part of graduate and post-graduate student work, including in the preparation of a thesis, dissertation, or a journal article. Literature reviews are also common in a research proposal or prospectus (the document that is approved before a student formally begins a dissertation or thesis).

Freebase Rate this definition: 2.5 / 4 votes

A literature review is a text written by someone to consider the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and as such, do not report any new or original experimental work. Also, a literature review can be interpreted as a review of an abstract accomplishment. Most often associated with academic-oriented literature, such as a thesis or peer-reviewed article, a literature review usually precedes a research proposal and results section. Its main goals are to situate the current study within the body of literature and to provide context for the particular reader. Literature reviews are a staple for research in nearly every academic field.

Editors Contribution Rate this definition: 0.0 / 0 votes

Literature review is an appraisal of all relevant existing literature to realize what is known and what is not known yet (the knowledge gaps) about a particular topic/subject. The core purpose of literature review is to convey to the reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a particular topic to be investigated. It is always important to be certain that your proposed research is new, and a literature review will help you establish that. Literature review is essential for commissioning any research as it enables us to have a broader picture about what already exists in the research field concerned and in what dimensions, and with what assumptions.

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Literature Reviews

  • What Is It?
  • Finding Literature Reviews

A literature review is both a process and a product. As a process, it involves searching for information related to your topic, to familiarize yourself with the relevant research and to identify issues and gaps in the research. In most cases you're seeking to identify the key authors and key arguments that are relevant to your topic, not to exhaustively read everything written on the subject. 

Types of Literature Reviews

A stand alone literature review can be a single work in its own right.  Examples include:

  • A class assignment
  • A review article

Literature reviews can also be component parts of larger bodies of work. Examples include:

  • A thesis / dissertation
  • An academic journal article introduction

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is the writing process of summarizing, synthesizing and/or critiquing the literature found as a result of a literature search. It may be used as background or context for a primary research project.

There are several reasons to review the literature :

  • Identify the developments in the field of study
  • Learn about the information sources and the research methodologies
  • Find gaps in the literature that can become research questions
  • Validate the originality of a research project
  • Evaluate the methods
  • Identify errors to avoid
  • Highlight the strengths, weaknesses and controversies in the field of study
  • Identify the subject experts

When writing your review, there are objectives you should keep in mind :

  • Inform the audience of the developments in the field
  • Establish your credibility
  • Discuss the relevance and significance of your question(s)
  • Provide the context for your methodological approach
  • Discuss the relevance and appropriateness of your approach.

​The level of detail or comprehensiveness of your literature review may depend on many things, but especially the purpose and audience of your review. For example, if you're writing a literature review that will aid you in writing a thesis or dissertation, you may want to have a very comprehensive lit review that reviews all relevant literature on a topic, as well as relevant sources beyond what is immediately and freely available (e.g. foundational scholarly articles not available through library collections).

Purpose of a Literature Review

Watch this YouTube video to understand the purpose of a literature review.

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Literature Review Definition

A scholarly paper , or part of one, compiled from published sources, which sums up current knowledge of a particular topic.

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Literature, Review

Published materials which provide an examination of recent or current literature. Review articles can cover a wide range of subject matter at various levels of completeness and comprehensiveness based on analyses of literature that may include research findings. The review may reflect the state of the art. It also includes reviews as a literary form.

dictionary literature review meaning

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