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Literature Reviews

An overview of conducting literature reviews in the social sciences and STEM fields.

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Jenna Strawbridge
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What is a literature review?

What is a literature review?

Definition: A literature review is a systematic examination and synthesis of existing scholarly research on a specific topic or subject.

Purpose: It serves to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge within a particular field.

Analysis: Involves critically evaluating and summarizing key findings, methodologies, and debates found in academic literature.

Identifying Gaps: Aims to pinpoint areas where there is a lack of research or unresolved questions, highlighting opportunities for further investigation.

Contextualization: Enables researchers to understand how their work fits into the broader academic conversation and contributes to the existing body of knowledge.


tl;dr A literature review critically examines and synthesizes existing scholarly research and publications on a specific topic to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge in the field.

What is a literature review NOT?

❌ An annotated bibliography

❌ Original research

❌ A summary

❌ Something to be conducted at the end of your research

❌ An opinion piece

❌ A chronological compilation of studies

Why conduct a literature review?

The reason for conducting a literature review is to:

Understand the topic

What has been written about your topic?

What is the evidence for your topic?

What methods, key concepts, and theories relate to your topic?

Are there current gaps in knowledge or new questions to be asked?

Update readers

Bring your reader up to date

Further your reader's understanding of the topic

Demonstrate your knowledge

Provide evidence of...

- your knowledge on the topic's theory

- your understanding of the research process

- your ability to critically evaluate and analyze information

- that you're up to date on the literature

Stages of a literature review

Lit reviews: An overview (video)

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students

While this 9-minute video from NCSU is geared toward graduate students, it is useful for anyone conducting a literature review.

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