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Comprehensive Literature Review: A Guide

What is a literature review, components of a literature review, literature review structures, sample literature reviews, additional resources.

A literature review is a collection of selected articles, books and other sources about a specific subject. The purpose is to summarize the existing research that has been done on the subject in order to put your research in context and to highlight what your research will add to the existing body of knowledge. Literature reviews are typically organized chronologically, thematically, or based on their methods.

Despite their various structures (see the descriptions below),  literature reviews consist of the following elements :

Chronological order creates paragraph/sections that review the material in sequential order . This structure is useful when tracing the history of a research area. Remember, your materials should be discussed in chronological order regardless of your overarching review structure.

Literature Reviews that are organized methodologically consist of paragraphs/sections that are based on the methods used in the literature found . This approach is most appropriate when you are using new methods on a research question that has already been explored . Since literature review structures are not mutually exclusive, you can organize the use of these methods in chronological order .

Thematic literature review structure organizes paragraphs/sections of the review based on the themes in the literature . This approach may be useful when you are studying a new research problem but would like to contextualize your research with similar literature .

These resources provide an overview of the literature review: the purpose of a lit review, what to include in one and how to organize one.

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students from NC State University Libraries on Vimeo .

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Comprehensive Literature Review

Elements of a Literature Review

Considerations for Assessing Each Source

Provenance—What are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings)?

Objectivity—Is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?

Persuasiveness—Which of the author's theses are most/least convincing?

Value—Are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

How to Read a Scholarly Article

Tips for Writing Literature Reviews

These guides provide an overview of the literature review: the purpose of a literatyre review, what to include in one and how to organize one.

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Steps in a Comprehensive* Literature Review

What is a literature review, is your review systematic.

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research. Research tells a story and the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward. 

Purpose of a Literature Review

Greenfield, T. (2016). Research methods for postgraduates. 3rd ed. London: Arnold.  (eBook)

Systematic reviews attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. Systematic reviews follow a defined protocol and include a reproducible search methodology, conducted in multiple databases. Retrieved citations are reviewed by multiple people and compared to a predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria. It is not unusual for a systematic review to take 18-24 months to conduct.

If this is the type of review you are interested in conducting, this guide will get you started but contact your Subject Librarian for help with your search. 

People often use the term "systematic review" when they really mean a thorough literature search, that covers multiple databases. This guide will also help you conduct a thorough search.

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Do you need help with conducting a comprehensive literature review? Let’s start with…

Which types of reviews would be appropriate for your research topic? 

comprehensive literature review research

What are main stages of conducting a review?

The figure below is about a systematic review. Depending on the review type, the review process may vary.

comprehensive literature review research

What can the library help?

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Provide the following information when email Marina Zhang ([email protected]) and get your project started today!

comprehensive literature review research

Literature Review

About this guide

This research guide was developed for students at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

If you are a student from another school, you are welcome to peruse the guide, using the links above, but please know that our librarians can only provide general help to non-BU students. Contact the librarians at your own institution for help in using the resources available to you.

-Andruss Library

A literature review is a comprehensive summary of previous research on a topic. The literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, and other sources relevant to a particular area of research.  The review should enumerate, describe, summarize, objectively evaluate and clarify this previous research.  It should give a theoretical base for the research and help you (the author) determine the nature of your research.  The literature review acknowledges the work of previous researchers, and in so doing, assures the reader that your work has been well conceived.  It is assumed that by mentioning a previous work in the field of study, that the author has read, evaluated, and assimiliated that work into the work at hand.

A literature review creates a "landscape" for the reader, giving her or him a full understanding of the developments in the field.  This landscape informs the reader that the author has indeed assimilated all (or the vast majority of) previous, significant works in the field into her or his research. 

 "In writing the literature review, the purpose is to convey to the reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (eg. your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries.( http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/literature-review )

Recommended Reading

comprehensive literature review research


Many thanks to Kate Houston and Libbie Blanchard of CQ University Libraries, (Queensland, Australia) whose LibGuide on the Literature Review served as a framework for this guide.

Designed and updated by Michael Coffta

Andruss Library | 570-389-4205 |  [email protected] ©Copyright Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania • 400 East Second Street, Bloomsburg PA 17815-1301 • 570.389.4000

Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

What is a literature review, what is a literature review: a tutorial, literature reviews: an overview for graduate students.

A Literature Review Is Not:

So, what is it then?

A literature review is an integrated analysis-- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students (by North Caroline State University Libraries)


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