Literature Review


  Writing a Literature Review

The module will explore literature reviews including their structure, purpose, scope, and focus.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the purpose of a literature review.
  • Compare and contrast literature reviews and other types of research writing.
  • Explain the scope and focus of a literature review.


A literature review is an evaluative report of the literature relating to a particular research topic. The literature review is more than just a summary of the current literature. The literature review should describe, summarize, evaluate, and clarify the literature. It should provide the foundation and support the new insight that additional research could provide. The literature reviewed is most commonly journals, scholarly books, and databases. However, it may include newspaper articles, magazines, other books, films, audio, video, and other secondary sources. The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Establish a framework for the topic or subject
  • Define key words and terminology
  • Identify studies, case studies and models that support the research topic
  • Provide a chronology or progression of the knowledge on the subject
  • Identify and articulate relationships in the research and with the proposed projects
  • May provide a new interpretation of previously published literature
  • Illustrate how the subject has been studied previously (methodology)
  • Highlight flaws in the research and identify gaps
  • Describe where the proposed research will fit in the current body of knowledge
  • Help define and establish the area of research

 Strategies and Tips for Writing a Literature Review

  • Start with research overviews, review and map references
  • Search for key authors who have contributed to the topic
  • Make strategic use of journal indexes and advanced search engine capabilities
  • Record key definitions and their context/take good notes
  • May need to re-evaluate question or topic if finding too many resources (too broad) or too few (too narrow)
  • Use current sources
  • Review other literature reviews that have been done on the subject
  • Decide on an organizational strategy - examples include chronological, thematic, methodological
  • Use quotes sparingly and keep your own voice
  • Writing should be clear and concise




Suggested Readings:

  • Cooper, H. M. (1989). Integrating research: A guide for literature reviews . Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Cooper, H. M. (1998). Synthesizing research: A guide for literature reviews (Vol. 2). Sage.
  • Fink, A. (2013). Conducting research literature reviews. Sage.
  • Ryan, G., Toohey, S., & Hughes, C. (1996). The purpose, value and structure of the practicum in higher education: A literature review. Higher Education, 31(3), 355-377.
  • Torraco, R. J. (2005). Writing integrative literature reviews: Guidelines and examples. Human Resource Development Review, 4(3), 356-367.


Resource Links

Literature Review - This link is a collection of resources including a video explanation of literature reviews and additional website links.

 Learn How to Write a Review of the Literature - The following resource describes the purpose of a literature review and outlines what should be included in the introduction, body and conclusion.

 Sample APA Papers: Literature Review - This link provides a sample of a literature review in APA format.  It includes notes, comments, dos, and don'ts that point out the important features of an effective literature review.

 Literature Reviews - A comprehensive link to the ins and outs of writing a literature review as well as tips and guidelines for each step of the process.

 Guidelines for Writing a Literature Review - The following resources provides a detailed step-by-step set of guidelines and instructions for writing a literature review.

Viewed 28,330 times