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Academic Research: an Overview: Literature Review

Information and resources for doing academic library research and scholarship

Literature Review: A Common Assignment

Researching a Literature Review

A literature review may be a stand-alone assignment or article, or it may be a section of a larger paper.

  • Plan your research: choose subject terms, databases, and the catalog.
  • Survey the work that has been done previously on the topic of the research question.
  • Assemble a tentative bibliography. Make sure you have all the bibliographic information needed by the citation format you are using.
  • Read (or at least carefully skim) every article, book, or other item--not just the abstract.
  • After an overview of the specific subject, focus on the theory or  issue your paper will explore.
  • Emphasize the finding of previous research that has been completed on the topic.
  • Discuss the various views about a subject, as found in the research.
  • Critique the previous research if you see a flaw.
  • Point out trends and themes in the literature.
  • Point out areas not covered in the literature, if you see any.
  • If a thorough search discovers no literature on your topic, say so; then describe the literature that is related to the larger subject.

Writing a Literature Review

  • Begin with a sentence describing the main idea of the review, such as this:  'The purpose of this proposal is to review the published literature about [insert your research topic here].
  • Write a unified essay (or section),  not just a list of brief annotations about each item.
  • Use quotations sparingly, if at all. Paraphrase but do not plagiarize. CITE EVERYTHING.
  • Use the appropriate style guide or citation format for your subject, discipline, or assignment.
  • As a transition or conclusion, point out how your study question differs from previous research.