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Literature Review Basics

Resources and guidance for synthesizing and presenting research in general literature reviews, systematic reviews, etc.

What is a literature review, and how do I write one?

What is a literature review?

Scholarship -- the process of doing, documenting, and sharing research -- is a kind of ongoing conversation. One of the most important things researchers do when they participate in that conversation is help each other to understand the current state of the discussion and talk about future developments. In order to do this, researchers write literature reviews, in which they pull together (synthesize) previous work on a subject and present it in the context of their own claims, so that they can show other researchers how their work contributes new information to the conversation.

Remember: A good literature review is NOT just a report on what other researchers have already done -- it's a tool for identifying trends, themes, and issues in previously published research for the purpose of assembling evidence in support of future research.

How do I write a literature review?

In order to write a literature review, you need to take the following basic steps:

1. Assemble relevant, current articles, studies, and other resources on or related to your topic

2. Identify what they have in common, where they differ, and what the impact of their results might be.

3. Assemble and organize the information identified in step (2) and present your results to your reader, either in the form of a literature review section in a paper/study or in the form of a systematic review of the literature.

Not sure how to do (2) and (3)? You're in luck! We've got some models and guidance for you in this Guide! The Synthesizing Research tab will take you to some basic writing help for pulling together and presenting your review, and the Using Research & Synthesis Tables tab provides you with some easy tools to use to figure out what to talk about and how to organize your work. The Additional Resources tab provides a set of links out to sites with more information, examples, and helpful tips for writing literature reviews.

If you need help, please contact your friendly Liaison Librarian!