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Writing a Literature Review: Home

Tips on writing a literature review (in any subject). (adapted from Brendan Rapple's LibGuide of the same title at Boston College, O'Neill Library.)

What is a Lit. Review?

A lit. review is a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the principal research about the topic being studied.

The review helps form the intellectual framework for the study.

The review need not be exhaustive; the objective is not to list as many relevant books, articles, reports as possible.

However, the review should contain the most pertinent studies and point to important past and current research and practices in the field.

Skills Needed

When conducting a literature review a researcher must have three quite distinct skills. She must be

  • adept at searching online databases and print indexes.
  • able to evaluate critically what she has read.
  • able to incorporate the selected readings into a coherent, integrated, meaningful account.

Purposes

A literature review serves several purposes. For example, it

  • provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
  • helps focus one’s own research topic.
  • identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
  • suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
  • identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
  • helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
  • suggests unexplored populations.
  • determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
  • tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

Recommended reading

University of Central Florida professors David Boote and Penny Beile explain the pivotal role of the literature review in justifying your research study and foregrounding your contribution to the existing literature on your topic.

Literature Reviews: An Overview (from NCSU Libraries)