Literature Reviews

The literature of a literature review is not made up of novels and short stories and poetry—but is the collection of writing and research that has been produced on a particular topic.

The purpose of the literature review is to give you an overview of a particular topic. Your job is to discover the research that has been done, the major perspectives, and the significant thinkers and writers (experts) who have published on the topic you’re interested in. In other words, it’s a survey of what has been written and argued about your topic.

By the time you complete your literature review you should have written an essay that demonstrates that you:

  • Understand the history of what’s been written and researched on your topic.
  • Know the significance of the current academic thinking on your topic, including what the controversies are.
  • Have a perspective about what work remains to be done on your topic.

Thus, a literature review synthesizes your research into an explanation of what is known and what is not known on your topic. If the topic is one from which you want to embark on a major research project, doing a literature review will save you time and help you figure out where you might focus your attention so you don’t duplicate research that has already been done.

Just to be clear: a literature review differs from a research paper in that a literature review is a summary and synthesis of the major arguments and thinking of experts on the topic you’re investigating, whereas a research paper supports a position or an opinion you have developed yourself as a result of your own analysis of a topic.

Another advantage of doing a literature review is that it summarizes the intellectual discussion that has been going on over the decades—or centuries—on a specific topic and allows you to join in that conversation (what academics call academic discourse) from a knowledgeable position.

The following presentation will provide you with the basic steps to follow as you work to complete a literature review.


NOTE: Although there is a basic structure to literature reviews, your professor may require something a little different. Be sure to follow your assignment instructions.

Seeing a sample literature review can be a helpful way to get started. Click on the image below to find a sample literature review written in APA style. In some browsers, you may need to download or save this file to be able to utilize all of its functionality.

A graphic that links to an example of a Literature Review

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