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What is a Literature Review?
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 of a literature review is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.
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 (such as a journal article). 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.
Elements of a Literature Review
A literature review should include:
- 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
Steps to Prepare a Literature Review
Preparation of a literature review may be divided into four broad stages:
- Define your topic: you must define your topic and components of your topic
- Search for materials: use search tools (such as the library catalogue, databases, bibliographies) to find materials about your topic
- Evaluate what you have found: read and evaluate what you have found in order to determine which material makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic
- Analysis and interpretation: provide a discussion of the findings and conclusions of the pertinent literature