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What is a literature review?

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Scott Swinney

on 22 October 2013

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Transcript of What is a literature review?

What is a literature review?
A literature review sets the scholarly context for a research project
Is there scholarly debate over the topic, or have scholars reached a consensus (or both)?

How has research into the topic changed over time?

Is there a gap in the research where new work is needed?

What are the theoretical approaches to the topic? Which is best?

These are some of the questions you can address in a literature review. A literature review seeks to summarize the arguments of other researchers. It can be required as a part of a research paper or research proposal, but regardless of where it's used, a literature review will focus on prior work in order to set a context for further research.
A literature review is structured by topic
A good literature review puts sources in conversation with each other. Don't summarize one source and then move on to another, and don't rely too heavily on one or two sources.

Work to give your reader a basic understanding of key terms and concepts essential to your work. Make your sources work for you, but stay focused on your topic. Use headings like "Historical Overview of ..." or "Theoretical Approaches to ..." as means of dividing the literature review into easily readable sections.
A literature review is not thesis-driven (but it does have a main idea)
The goal of the literature review is to provide context, not to argue a point. The main idea of your literature review should be informative, not argumentative. Overall, what is the scholarly consensus about your topic? Use that to structure the main idea of your literature review.

Nearly every sentence in a literature review should refer to a source. Be sure to use language like "researchers agree ..." or "scholars argue ..." Don't make unsubstantiated claims, and save your own findings and arguments for other sections of your work.
A literature review has an introduction and a conclusion
The literature review is like an informative essay in the middle of a larger project. It needs an introduction and a conclusion that will give the reader an understanding of how it fits into the project as a whole. The introduction should also give some indication of structure, and the conclusion should set up the rest of the project by summarizing the main points and offering suggestions for further research.
Look for more help online ...
Use research databases to find examples of literature reviews in your field, and model your own work on what you find.

Fore more information on citation styles, use Google or go to online writing resources like the Trinity Writing Center's links page, located under the Resources tab at www.trinitydc.edu/writing.
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