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Literature Review: Understanding a Literature Review

Understanding a literature review, Criteria for writing a Literature Review, Sources, Development of Literature Review

What is a literature review?

The literature review is a survey of information found in scholarly articles, books, and other sources directly related to a field of study. The goal of a literature review is to find, describe, summarize, evaluate and clarify prior research already published about your topic. A good literature review goes beyond summing up the research of others: it explores the literature for key concepts and determines what has already been investigated. In essence, a literature review identifies, defines and measures key concepts related to research already completed in the field of study.

A literature review:

  • explains background of research on a topic
  • demonstrates why a topic is significant
  • describes, summarizes, evaluates, clarifies and integrates information on your project 
  • places your project into the context of established work 
  • identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology
  • provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of significant works 
  • indicates potential directions for future research

Books to Help

Types of Reviews

Different projects require different types of literature reviews.  While the basics outlined above remain the same, the length and kind of review will vary by the project.  Types of projects that require literature reviews:

  • URI Grant Proposal
  • Capstone
  • Honors
  • Research Paper
  • Master's Thesis
  • Research Article


What Isn't a Literature Review?

A literature review sets the stage for later research.  It is NOT an annotated bibliography in which you summarize each article that you have reviewed.  A literature review focuses on a critical analysis of the reviewed works and their relationship to your research.