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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Literature Reviews

Explanations and Examples of Literature Reviews in Social Scientific Research

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a summary of what is currently known about some issue or field on the basis of research evidence, and/or of what lines of argument there are in relation to that issue or field. Sometimes reviews are designed to stand alone, perhaps even being substantial book-length pieces of work. More usually, they amount to chapters in monographs or theses; and here their function is to set the scene for the particular study being reported, showing how it fits into the existing literature. -- Martyn Hammersley, "Literature Review," in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods 

Tips to Remember

A review of the literature:

• Focuses on a specific topic – your argument or problem as stated in your thesis.
• Compiles the research that has been published on the topic by recognized scholars and researchers.
• Provides background for the problem or puts the problem into historical perspective.
• Informs the reader about the current concepts and state of research on the topic and any controversies.
• Describes the pros and cons of particular studies and may suggest areas for further research.
• Organizes the citations thematically into a narrative that can serve as the introduction to your report or that can be an individual essay.

A review of the literature is NOT:

• A literary review describing and evaluating a specific book, poem, play, etc.
• An exhaustive, alphabetical list of every work consulted in your research, nor a list of references cited.
• An annotated bibliography listing references and adding brief notes about the value of each source.

Other Helpful Skills

Polish some of the research skills that will be necessary for research, writing, and presentation across multiple academic disciplines.