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What is a literature review?

A literature review is a synthesis of previous research on a topic. It allows the author to summarize and place into context the research and scholarly literature relevant to the topic. It forms the foundation for the author’s subsequent research and justifies the significance of the new investigation.

A literature review can be a short introductory section of a research article, report or policy paper that focuses on recent research, or, in the case of dissertations, theses, and review articles, it can be an extensive review of all relevant research.

The format is usually a bibliographic essay synthesizing the research on the topic and outlining the significance and value of the author’s approach to the research question. Sources are cited within the body of the essay, with full bibliographic citations at the end.

Key Questions

A literature review should try to answer questions such as:

1. Who are the key researchers on this topic?

2. What has been the focus of the research efforts so far and what is the current status?

3. How have certain studies built on prior studies? Where are the connections?

4. Have there been any controversies or debate about the research? Is there consensus?

5. Which areas have been identified as needing further research?

6. How will your topic uniquely contribute to this body of knowledge?

7. Which methodologies have researchers used and which appear to be the most productive?

8. What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to you?

9. How does your particular topic fit into the larger context of what has already been done?

10. How has the research that has already been done help frame your current investigation?