This guide is designed to help you as you get started on a literature review in the social sciences. It contains search tips, advice on where to look for sources, and information on how to organize and evaluate the sources you find.
What's a Literature Review?
A literature review is the systematic written analysis of previously published research on a specific topic or subject. A literature review is not merely a summary of another scholar's articles or books. Instead, it provides a contextual analysis of the data, ideas, or theoretical concepts presented in the article, book, or other publication.
Why is a literature review important?
All scholars recognize the importance of the literature review. It provides the foundation for all scholarly research papers, theses, and dissertations. You can't write intelligently about a subject if you are unfamiliar with the existing literature. Therefore, the literature review is meant to showcase what has already been discussed or discovered in your topical area.
What types of resources should be used for a literature review?
A literature review should be written using "credible" academic sources of information. This means using peer-reviewed, scholarly articles, books, and other publications in your subject area. You should avoid using popular magazines, unpublished works, blogs, or other resources deemed non-scholarly.
What other things should I consider while reading the source material?
Take careful notes of important ideas, concepts, or facts you find that are relevant to your overall topic or thesis. Most importantly, keep track of all the sources used. This will keep you from needing to relocate them later. If your paper is large in scope, use electronic bibliographic tools such as Endnote or RefWorks to keep track of all your citations while you write.
What about writing the literature review itself?
When you are prepared to begin writing your literature review, you should not simply summarize the articles and books you find. You should carefully consider the research and the author's interpretation of the subject matter. Then show how their research relates to your specific topic, from your unique point of view.
Many scholarly articles contain literature reviews, so as you conduct your research you will probably be exposed to quite a few.
To search directly for a literature review, go to a library database and search for:
"literature review" AND [your research topic].
Many scholarly journals also publish long and extremely detailed literature reviews. These are usually included in journals with "Annual Review of..." in the title. You can look at these as examples of large-scale literature reviews, although what you produce in your research papers will probably not be quite so comprehensive.