Literature Review (Research)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Man reading in library
Producing an effective literature review means reading with a purpose. "The purpose of your literature review is to put your work into a critical context, not merely to describe what others have done" (Student's Guide to Writing Dissertations and Theses in Tourism Studies and Related Disciplines, 2013). Hero Images/Getty Images

A literature review is the process of reading, analyzing, evaluating, and summarizing scholarly materials about a specific topic. Also called a research literature review, review of literature, and state-of-the-art assessment.

The results of a literature review may be compiled in a report or they may serve as part of a research article, thesis, or grant proposal.

As Colin Combe points out, "The term literature review can be applied to both the process of reviewing the literature, as well as the label given to the output of such a process—the 'literature review' chapter(s) or section(s) in a document such as coursework, project, dissertation, or thesis" (Introduction to Management, 2014).

See the observations below. Also see:


  • "Research literature reviews can be contrasted with more subjective examinations of recorded information. When doing a research review, you systematically examine all sources and describe and justify what you have done. This enables someone else to reproduce your methods and to determine objectively whether to accept the results of the review.

    "In contrast, subjective reviews tend to be idiosyncratic. Subjective reviewers choose articles without justifying why they are selected, and they may give equal credence to good and poor studies. The results of subjective reviews are often based on a partial examination of the available literature, and their findings may be inaccurate or even false."
    (Arlene Fink, Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. Sage, 2009)
  • Essays and Literature Reviews
    "The difference between essay writing and writing a literature review is that while the purpose of essay writing is generally to discuss ideas with respect to the essay question, the aim of the literature review is to summarize and synthesize all that is published on a given topic. . . . 

    "A literature review is an essay of sorts; however, it tends to be more formulaic in nature. The key steps to undertaking any literature review firstly involve developing a structure for the review. This entails selecting the review topic, carrying out a literature search, reading, critiquing and analyzing the literature. . . . A well-organized literature review will consist of an introduction,

    a main body that critiques the findings of previous work, addressing both theoretical and empirical literature, a discussion and a conclusion."
    (Michael Coughlan, Patricia Cronin, and Frances Ryan, Doing a Literature Review in Nursing, Health and Social Care. Sage, 2013)

  • Research Goals and the Literature Review
    "There should be clear links between the aims of your research and the literature review, the choice of research designs and means used to collect data, your discussion of the issues, and your conclusions and recommendations. To summarize, we can say that the research should:
    1. focus on a specific problem, issue or debate;
    2. relate to that problem, issue or debate in terms that show a balance between the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of the topic;
    3. include a clearly stated research methodology based on the existing literature;
    4. provide an analytical and critically evaluative stance to the existing literature on the topic.
    A master's thesis is therefore a demonstration in research thinking and doing."
    (Chris Hart, Doing a Literature Review. Sage, 1998)
  • A Note on Evaluating Internet Resources
    "When you evaluate an Internet or web source, you have to be especially alert. There are many bogus sites; Internet publishing is relatively easy and inexpensive and is entirely missing the extensive checks and balances system that operates in most publishing houses. To assess the reliability of a website, check out the author: Is her or his name clearly visible? Is there a link to the author's email address or to a legitimate and well-known university's home page or library page? Does the author belong to or represent an organization--and is there additional information about the organization or a link to the organization's website?

    "You should also be skeptical about the accuracy of a website: Does the information presented there seem reliable? How do you know? Are sources for the information listed? Does the information have a particular slant or bias? Be alert for loaded words, ones that reveal an author's feelings or attitudes about the subject. It is also prudent to consider the objectivity of a page: What viewpoint is being expressed? What is the purpose of the page (for marketing, for information, for political purpose)? Does the information seem unbiased? Finally, check to see how current the page is, when it was last updated as well as how current the links are."
    (C. Beth Burch, Writing for Your Portfolio. Allyn and Bacon, 1999)
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Literature Review (Research)." ThoughtCo, May. 2, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, May 2). Literature Review (Research). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Literature Review (Research)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 21, 2018).