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Literature Reviews: Introduction

This interdisciplinary guide describes the basic steps of doing a literature review.

What IS a Literature Review?

A literature review does not present an original argument. The purpose is to offer an overview of what is known about the topic and to evaluate the strength of the evidence on that topic. It usually contains a summary, a synthesis, or an analysis of the key arguments in the existing literature. The literature may come from books, articles, reports, or other formats.  Sources may even contradict each other.  A literature review also helps distinguish what research has been done and identify what needs further research

Literature Review vs. Research Paper vs. Annotated Bibliography

A literature review:

  • Shares experts' various thoughts, ideas and viewpoints about a topic within your field
  • Summarizes arguments from various sources pointing out strengths and weaknesses of their arguments
  • Sources may contradict each other

A research paper:

  • Presents a single thought, idea or argument about a topic
  • Explains or argues an idea using research that supports a single conclusion
  • Sources used generally support each other

An annotated bibliography:

  • Lists citations to books, articles, and documents with each citation followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph.  See Purdue OWL for further information.

What is it That You Review?

You will review...

  • The current status of the knowledge or research about a topic, question or field
  • The theoretical approach(es) used in studying this particular topic or question
  • The data collection tools and procedures used and their implications on the body of knowledge
  • The future direction(s) on a topic in terms of theory, methodology, questions for further study, and so on

Types of Literature Reviews

Traditional or narrative literature review

  • Critiques and summarizes a body of literature
  • Draws conclusions about the topic
  • Identifies gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge
  • Requires a sufficiently focused research question

Systematic literature review

  • More rigorous and well-defined approach
  • Comprehensive
  • Published and unpublished studies relating to a particular subject area
  • Details the time frame within which the literature was selected
  • Details the methods used to evaluate and synthesize findings of the studies in question


  • A form of systematic review (reductive)
  • Takes findings from several studies on the same subject and analyzes them using standardized statistical procedures
  • Integrates findings from a large body of quantitative findings to enhance under-standing (study=unit of analysis)
  • Draws conclusions and detect patterns and relationships

From the University of Toledo.

Steps in the Literature Review

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