What is a literature review?

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources that provides an overview of a particular topic. Literature reviews are a collection of the most relevant and significant publications regarding that topic in order to provide a comprehensive look at what has been said on the topic and by whom. The basic components of a literature review include:

  • a description of the publication;
  • a summary of the publication’s main points;
  • a discussion of gaps in research;
  • an evaluation of the publication’s contribution to the topic.

What is the difference between a literature review and an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of your references with a summary of the content and the publication’s relationship to your research question. A literature review is an overview of the topic, an explanation of how publications differ from one another, and an examination of how each publication contributes to the discussion and understanding of the topic.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

The purpose of a literature review is to provide a review of writings on the given topic in order to establish the reviewer’s own position in the existing field of scholarship on that topic. A literature review provides a reader with a comprehensive look at previous discussions prior to the one the reviewer will be making in his/her own research paper, thesis, or dissertation. In short, a literature review shows readers where the reviewer is entering the academic conversation on a particular topic in the context of existing scholarship.

How do I create a literature review?

The length and depth of your literature review depends on the length of your project. If you are writing a 10-page argument paper, you may have room to include 5-6 sources to review, because you will also be establishing your argument as well, but there’s no hard equation for how many or how much. Use your judgment and most importantly, consult your instructor about expectations.

Here is a step-by-step approach to drafting your literature review:

  1. Define Your Goal

    If you are writing an argument paper, create a thesis statement with a clear position. If you are evaluating scientific theories, develop a hypothesis to examine. If you are providing a self-contained review of writings on a topic, state your project’s purpose. At the beginning of any paper, define your paper’s purpose so that the literature review will be anchored to a specific point of view.
  2. Do Your Research

    Review a number of texts that most closely pertain to your topic and position, and are written by relevant scholars. Understand who the top voices are in your topic’s academic field, and be sure to include the most pertinent publications by those scholars.
  3. Ground Summary in Relevance

    As you summarize each publication, provide the context for that publication’s importance by tying its main points to your thesis, hypothesis, or project statement. How does it relate? Establish its relevance to the discussion.
  4. Develop Review Logically

    Think of your literature review as a development of an argument—what were the earliest ideas on the topic and how did they grow and evolve in the academic conversation of these publications? First things first.
  5. Include References/Works Cited List

    As you are writing the literature review you will mention the author names and the publication years in your text, but you will still need to compile comprehensive citations for each entry at the end of your review. Follow APA guidelines, as your course requires.

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