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Literature Reviews: Guide Main Page

Literature Review Resources

WHAT IS A LITERATURE REVIEW?

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, reports) 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 and background on 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, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

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. 

 

More sources on Literature Reviews: 

Primary Sources

The term sources refer to print, electronic or visual materials necessary for your research. Sources are classified into primary, secondary and tertiary.

  • Examples of primary sources: letters/correspondence, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, official or research reports, patents and designs, and empirical research articles.
  • Examples of secondary sources: academic journal articles (other than empirical research articles or reports), conference proceedings, books (monographs or chapters’ books), documentaries.
  • Examples of tertiary sources: Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, atlas

Note: Sometimes, secondary sources can be considered primary sources depending on context. For example, an academic article about Mexican migration during the Mexican Revolution written during that period can be used as primary sources to document the "contemporary thinking" of that period. In the sciences, an academic article reporting the findings of a major study can be considered a primary source because it is reporting findings. 

To learn more about sources you can visit,http://www.lib.umd.edu/guides/primary-sources.html

Literature reviews use a combination of primary and secondary sources since the purpose is to document and analyze what has been published on any given topic through time.

Tutorial on Differences Between Scholarly and Popular Articles

Tutorial video created by Vanderbilt University showing the differences between scholarly journals and popular magazines. 

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