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Social Work Specialized Topics: Literature Review Process

This guide provides links and resources related to LGBTQ issues, Grief and Dying, Elder Abuse, Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, Seniors, Psychological Tests and Measures, and Children/Youth

What is a Literature Review?

The literature review is a critical summary, classification, and evaluation of existing theory and research on your topic. This assignment is intended to help you: (1) begin applying the concepts covered in readings and class discussions to your research problem/situation/interest; and (2) familiarize yourself with scholarly journal articles and other sources of information about your topic and methodological interest areas.

When writing your literature review, you should address a specific and well-defined question or set of questions. Thus, you will write a concise and focused essay that outlines the background and history of your research problem, identifies possible methods through which to study it, assesses the strengths and weaknesses of previous studies, and provides a conceptual framework and rationale for your study. In short, you should “tell the story” of your problem, how it has evolved, how it has been studied, and what is currently known about it.
Keep in mind:

1. The literature review is not a laundry list of studies. Do not simply summarize each study – integrate them into a focused work which: cites major themes in the literature; organizes conceptual relationships and documents them with evidence from previous studies; offers a critique of previous research; reports on the range and types of procedures used in previous studies; identifies important methodological considerations; notes gaps in the existing literature; and points out implications for further research.

2. You should primarily draw evidence from peer review journals; however, other sources can also be used (i.e., government reports, etc.). While you may use reports and publications published by various interest groups, keep in mind that they may be somewhat more biased than peer review journal articles, as the former are often intended to advance a particular agenda.

3. The literature review is not the place to express your opinions or point of view. You should attempt to present a balanced picture of previous research and theoretical works. However, your purpose for reviewing the literature and the relevance of such literature should be included in the write-up.

4. You should exploit conflicting findings in previous studies (rather than omitting findings that contradict your point of view!), as such discrepancies often provide the rationale for future research, particularly if the previous studies have substantial limitations.

5. All statements should be drawn from cited works. Avoid statements of fact and/or general statements (e.g., “it is commonly accepted…”) unless you can support them with credible evidence and citations from existing literature.
The Assignment: Conduct a comprehensive literature search (online and/or at the library – e.g., PsychInfo, EconLit, Ageline, Medline, Social Work Abstracts, Social Sciences Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, etc.) and, in approximately 7-15 double-spaced pages in APA format (with a reference section included at the end), synthesize the relevant literature in a coherent review. Focus on similarities and differences across studies, the quality of the various studies, variables/factors considered and omitted, and any limitations of the existing research. You may want to organize the review around a set of sub-headings, as discussed in class.
If this is a phd group:
Detailed article about methods and results.
Scholars Before Researchers: On the Centrality of the Dissertation
Literature Review in Research Preparation
Here are some Bobst holdings. Good examples of lit reviews. All "annual reviews" are on-line.
Annual Review of Psychology
Annual Review of Sociology
International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences
Contemporary Sociology
Book Review Digest Plus
Social Pathology: A Journal of Reviews

Literature Review demo

Thanks to Adelphi University for this demo!

Social Work Librarian

Stephen Maher's picture
Stephen Maher
Bobst Library
Mezzanine, 1M-04B
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2490