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Researching & Writing Literature Reviews in Religious Studies: Intro


This guide provides an overview of the literature review and its place in a research project, thesis, or dissertation, and demonstrates some strategies and resources for finding the information you need using the Georgia State University Library.

Consult the following websites for additional information:

Literature Reviews - The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina

Guidelines for Writing a Literature Review - The University of Minnesota, Duluth

How to Write a Literature Review - Concordia University

Write a Literature Review - The University of California, Santa Cruz

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students - North Carolina State University (Video)

When in doubt...

When in doubt about your literature review...

  • Ask your professor
  • Consult your syllabus
  • Read the written assignment
  • Consult the information on the websites listed in the "Introduction" box above
  • If you're still not sure, don't be afraid to ask your professor again

There are dozens of techniques for creating a literature review, and they vary by your field of study, the purpose of the review, the topic, and sometimes even the personal preferences of the professor, thesis committee, or journal editor.

What is a literature review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits into the larger field of study.

A literature review involves much more than just a summary of the included sources. While it can be a summary of sources on a certain subject, more often it takes a critical, evaluative approach, showing the relationships between the various writings and how they relate to your own work. A good literature review will look at the research that has been done and synthesize or pull together those elements that are similar or most pertinent to the theme you have chosen.

What is the “literature” in a literature review?

The “literature” reviewed depends on the project and subject area.  For most subject areas, it would contain the collection of scholary sources found to be relevant to your research topic, such as books and articles written by noted experts in the field. 

Some projects may, however, focus on a specific  format. For example, some literature reviews will review only books. Others will review only scholarly journals articles. While others will include both books and articles (and possibly other sources of data/research). What and how much you review will be determined by the scope of your project.

Where are literature reviews used?

  • Undergraduate senior honors theses
  • Graduate master's theses and doctoral dissertations
  • Academic books
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Government and privately funded researh grant proposals

What is the value of a literature review?

A well written literature review demonstrates that you have not only thoroughly researched your topic but also carefully examined and critically evaluated the range of relevant resources.

Much more than a simple list of sources, an effective literature review:

  1. Helps you discover what has been written about a topic already.
  2. Helps you remain current in the field.
  3. Helps you determine what each source contributes to a topic.
  4. Teaches you how to analyze and synthesize information about the key themes and the relationships between the various contributions within a specific body of scholarship, and (if possible) to reveal contradictions, or unanswered questions needing further study.
  5. Places your research within a larger body of work and shows how your research seeks to fill in a gap, or extend, the knowledge that has already been written in a specific area of study.

Questions a literature review may answer:

  • What's been written on this topic area to date?
  • Which are the important works?
  • On which particular areas of the topic has previous research concentrated?
  • What are the significant discoveries, key concepts, arguments, and/or theories that scholars have put forward?
  • What methodologies have been used?
  • Have there been developments over time?
  • Where are the inconsistencies or other shortcomings in our knowledge and understanding of the topic?
  • Are there any gaps in the research?
  • Are there areas that haven't been looked at closely yet, but which should be?
  • Are there new ways of looking at the topic?
  • Are there improved methodologies for researching this subject?
  • What future directions should research in this subject take?
  • How will your research build on or depart from current and previous research on the topic?