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Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review is Not:

  • just a summary of sources
  • a grouping of broad, unrelated sources
  • a compilation of everything that has been written on a particular topic
  • literature criticism (think English) or a book review

So, what is it?

A literature review is an integrated analysis - not just a summary - of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question. In contrast to an academic research paper, the focus of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.

According to the APA 7th Manual, literature review articles “provide narrative summaries and evaluations of the findings or theories within a literature base” and “capture trends in the literature” (2020, p. 8).

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic
  • Identifies critical gaps, contradictions, inconsistencies, and points of disagreement
  • Points the way in fulfilling a need for additional research
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies

The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant
  • Identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date

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