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Literature Reviews


This guide will answer some common questions about literature reviews and point you to useful resources to learn more. This guide is organized in the following sections:

  • Tutorials and resources for further exploration
  • Steps in the literature process
    • Literature search
    • Analysis, synthesis, critique
    • Writing the review

What is a literature review?

Literature review is a "systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners." (Arlene Fink, Conducting Research Literature Reviews, 2009)


What does that mean? The literature review establishes the fact that you have familiarized yourself with the particular area(s) or discipline(s) in which you are conducting research. A literature review will summarize the existing scholarly literature on your chosen topic, establish relationships between different research projects of the past, show where there are gaps in past research, and show how the past published work relates to your own work.

Why is a literature review important?

The literature review is a vital part of the argument the author makes in support of a thesis. The literature review offers brief descriptions, summaries, and critical evaluations of each work, and does so in the form of a well-organized essay. The goal is to summarize, synthesize, and critique arguments and ideas of others, and point to gaps in the current literature.

The literature review shows where your own research work is situated in the current research landscape. The literature review sets the stage for showing how your own work advances and expands upon the work done before, fills in knowledge gaps, or maybe - in some cases - disproves or debunks what was previously thought to be true. The literature review, therefore, is an essential part of a well-researched thesis, so it's important to do it right.


The following resources were invaluable in the creation of this resource guide.