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Literature Review How To

This guide aims to assist you with the process of writing a literature review.

Consider This

  • What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review aims to define?
  • What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory, methodology, policy, quantitative research (e.g. interviews, observations), qualitative research (e.g., studies, surveys, statistics)?
  • What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents)?
  • What discipline am I working in (e.g. Public Health, Nursing, Kinesiology etc.)?
  • Has my search for sources been wide enough to ensure that I have found all the relevant material?
  • Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material?
  • Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper (i.e. if your literature review is part of a larger paper or assignment)?
  • Have I critically analyzed the resources I found?
  • How will I avoid just listing and summarizing resources? Do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?
  • Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?
  • Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and or useful?



The format of a literature review may vary from discipline to discipline and from assignment to assignment. However, a literature review must do these things:

  1. Be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
  2. Synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  3. Identify problematic areas or areas of controversy in the literature
  4. Formulate questions or issues that need further research

Remember! A literature review is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another.

Try and avoid starting every paragraph with the name of a researcher or the title of the work. Rather, try organizing the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theories. You are not trying to list all the material published on a topic, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.

Consider These For Each Source

  • Has the author formulated a problem/issue?
  • Is the problem/issue clearly defined and is its significance (scope, severity, and relevance) clearly established?
  • Could the problem/issue have been approached more effectively and or from another perspective?
  • What is the author's research orientation (e.g., interpretive, critical science, combination)?
  • What is the author's theoretical framework (e.g., psychological, developmental, feminist)?
  • What is the relationship between #4 and #5?
  • Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the topic (i.e. does the author include a literature review and or provide sources that take positions she/he does not agree with)?
  • How accurate and valid are the measurements, statistics or data the author has provided?
  • Is the analysis of the measurements, statistics or data accurate and relevant to the research question?
  • Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis?
  • · How does the author structure the argument? Can you retrace the steps he/she takes and analyze the flow of the argument to see if it progresses logically?
  • In what ways does this piece contribute to our understanding of the topic, and in what ways is it useful? What are the strengths and limitations?
  • How does this book or article relate to my thesis or research question?

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