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Faculty Research & Scholarly Activity: Literature Reviews

Tips and resources for getting started, reviewing the literature, choosing a method, and sharing the findings of scholarly activity and other research projects

 

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. Depending on the overall goal of your literature review, you will typically need 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

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) that follows an evidence synthesis methodology. The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.

It is helpful to consider what your overall purpose before beginning a literature review.

Is it required for a grant application? Are you trying to scope out a problem statement? Do you need to find a research method that aligns with your question?

There are many potential goals, including but not limited to:

  • Identifying gaps in the research
  • Supporting evidence-based practice
  • Answering a specific question
  • Defining concepts
  • Generating ideas
  • Finding / defining a research framework
  • Choosing a research method

Defining the goal clarifies the process you will follow for conducting your literature review by, for example, determining how extensively you will search for sources, the formats you should include, and what the best tools are for you to use.

In general, reviewing the literature may be divided into four broad stages:

  1. Define your topic: define your research topic and its components, e.g. key concepts, geographic location, and other relevant elements
  2. Search for materials: use search tools (such as the library catalog, databases, and bibliographies) to find materials about your topic
  3. 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
  4. Analysis and interpretation: provide a discussion of the findings and conclusions of the pertinent literature

Below are selected readings and videos to support these stages:

Key Tools & Resources

Below are additional guides and services to support reviewing the literature on your topic.

It's strongly recommended that you reach out to your Library Liaison or Research and Instruction Librarian for support with searching for materials and building a matrix to synthesize sources, if applicable.

Print & eBooks

Attribution

Adapted with permission and thanks from How to Write a Literature Review  created by Concordia University Libraries.

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