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SOCIOL 332: Methods of Social Research: Literature Reviews

Research guide for the Duke Sociology Dept.'s research methods course

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a “critical analysis of a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles” (University of Wisconsin Writing Center).

Do not confuse a literature review with an annotated bibliography.

Information for this page is taken from the Thompson Writing Program.


  • The introduction should explain why you are writing the review (“so what/who cares?”) and make some central claims about the current state of the literature (e.g. trends, debates, gaps, etc.).
  • Organize the body of the paper by common denominators among sources, such as methodologies, conclusions, philosophical approaches, or possibly chronology (assuming topical subsections)
  • The conclusion should summarize significant contributions to the field, situate the reviewed literature in the larger context of the discipline, point out flaws or gaps in the research, and/or suggest future areas of study.

Lit Review Process

Literature Review Tutorial

Questions to Ask

  • How are sources similar in terms of methodologies, philosophies, claims, choice and interpretation of evidence, reliability, etc.?
  • How do they differ?
  • Do you observe gaps in the research or areas that require further study?
  • Do particular issues or problems stand out?
  • Do you want to compare texts in general or hone in on a specific issue or question?


  • Determine your purpose.Understanding the purpose and expectations of the prompt will help you place appropriate emphasis on analysis or summary.
  • Keep track of sources by writing a brief summary for each.
  • Consider making a table or chart to map how different sources relate to/contrast with one another.
  • Consider the significance of each work to the field. The amount of space you dedicate to an individual source denotes its significance within the body of literature.