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What is a literature review?

A literature review is both the process and the product.

Bangert-Drowns, R. (2005). Literature review. In S. Mathison (Ed.), Encyclopedia of evaluation. (pp. 232-233). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Why review the literature?

Reference to prior literature is a defining feature of academic and research writing. Why review the literature?

Feak, C. B., Swales, J. M., Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2009). Telling a research story: Writing a literature review . Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press.

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students by North Carolina State University Libraries

Types of Literature Reviews

Books/Book Chapters on Literature Reviews

Cover Art

secondary literature review

Understanding Nursing Research

What is primary research, how can i tell if my article is "primary research", limiting your search to primary research.

The phrase "Primary" can mean something different depending on what subject you're in.

In History , for example, you might hear the phrase "primary sources." This means the researcher is looking for sources that date back to when an event occurred. Primary sources can be a diary, a photograph, or a newspaper clipping.

If this is the kind of research you're looking for, check out this research guide on how to find primary sources:

If you're in Nursing or another scientific field you're more likely to hear the phrase "Primary Research."

Primary Research refers to research that was conducted by the author of the article you're reading. So if you're reading an article and in the methodology section the author refers to recruiting participants, identifying a control group, etc. you can be pretty sure the author has conducted the research themselves.

When you're asked to find primary research, you're being asked to find articles describing research that was conducted by the authors.

Check out the video below for an explanation of the differences between primary and secondary research.

To determine if the article you're looking at is considered Primary Research, look for the following:

The main question to ask yourself is "Did the author conduct research, or did they read and synthesize other people's research?"

If you've found an article in CINAHL and you want to know if it's primary research, look under "Publication Type" to see if it's a research article.

secondary literature review

This is not always 100% correct, though. To be sure, you should always read the Methodology section to understand what kind of article you're looking at.

If you're using PubMed, you can check the article's Keywords and Abstract for clues to see if the article is primary research, like in the article below:

secondary literature review

Or you can check to see if the article includes a "Publication Type" section like this article:

secondary literature review

The following Publication Types are usually considered Primary Research:

Remember, you will always need to read the Methodologies section of an article to be sure the article is an example of primary research!

In certain databases you can specify that you're only interested in resources that are considered primary research.

Two of those databases are CINAHL and PubMed, which you can access here:

Off campus access to this resource is available only to students, faculty, and staff of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

To limit your results to primary research in CINAHL, check the "Research Article" box on the homepage before you hit "Search"

secondary literature review

This check box is helpful, but it isn't 100% correct, so always read the Methodology section of your article to determine what kind of article it is!

If you're conducting a search in PubMed and want to limit your results to a certain kind of article, you can enter your search terms on the homepage and click "Search."

Then, when you're on your results page, use the limiters on the left side of the screen to specify the "Article Type" you're interested in. Under "Article Types" click the "Customize..." link to see the full list of article types available to you.

secondary literature review

Check any of the article types you're interested in (don't forget to scroll down on this list!) and then click the blue "Show" button at the bottom of the pop up window.

Now the Article Types you just selected should appear under the Article Types heading. Click on the article types you want to show up in your results list and your results will limit themselves to just those that meet your criteria.

secondary literature review

Remember to read the article's Methodology section yourself before deciding whether or not it's Primary Research! These limits are great, but they aren't always 100% accurate.

secondary literature review

The Literature Review: Home

About this guide

​This guide provides an overview of the literature review process including useful tips and advice on effective searching and managing of resources. The guide is intended as a starting point for any student or researcher new to the literature review process.

Types of literature reviews

Principles of a good literature review, endnote support, related library guides.

You may have heard of a number of different types  of literature review. Common terms include:

There are a number of organisations, such as the international Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations, and the Joanna Briggs Institute which support the conduct of systematic reviews in health, social welfare, criminal justice and education (see the Systematic Reviews tab for more information).

For the purposes of this guide, we will focus on general principles that apply to anyone (from any discipline) conducting a good-quality literature review .

A literature review can be defined as follows:

A critical summary and assessment of the range of existing materials dealing with knowledge and understanding in a given field … Its purpose is to locate the research project, to form its context or background, and to provide insights into previous work

( The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods  2006)

Jupp, V 2006, 'Literature review',  The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods , SAGE Publications, London

College of Arts & Education  

Victoria University Business School

College of Engineering and Science    

College of Health & Biomedicine   

College of Law & Justice 

College of Sport and Exercise Science

A reference management tool such as Endnote is highly recommended for those conducting a literature review. For help with Endnote, as well as information on how to book into one of the Endnote training workshops run by the Library, visit

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secondary literature review

Difference between Literature Review and Secondary Research

Difference between Literature Review and Secondary Research

In most cases, you will be required to conduct different forms of study as well as write different papers in the course of your study. You will also need to understand what is meant by  primary and secondary sources of literature . Despite the fact that some of these write-ups may seem to be somehow similar, it is important to identify and distinguish between the different forms of papers and methods of research used for scholarly purposes. Not only do the papers differ in the content required, but they also have different structures and format requirements. Different methods used are also relevant to some forms of papers. If you mix them up, the purpose of your paper may be completely lost and you will end up confusing your audience. In this article, we are going to focus on the differences between the literature review and secondary research. To achieve our purpose, we are going to start by clearly defining the two terms and then further break them down to clearly understand the differences. We are also going to look at a few best sources of literature review in research  as well as those of  secondary literature sources. 

What is a Literature Review? 

By simple definition, a literature review alludes to a detailed summary of previous inquiries that was conducted on a given topic. This kind of work involves the surveying of books, scholarly articles and any other sources that are deemed as relevant to a given area of study. This paper is meant to compute, describe, summarize, and objectively carry out an evaluation and clarification of the previous exploration. The literature review should help you as a writer to clearly understand the nature of the research by offering a theoretical base for the research. The review takes into consideration the work of the previous writers and therefore helps assure the audience that all the work has been clearly perceived. It is, therefore, very important to pick out the best  primary and secondary sources of literature review  prior to proceeding to the actual writing.

These  sources of literature review in research  show that you have clearly read, assimilated, and evaluated the original work and that you are able to produce a relevant paper. In this kind of work, you can also use theoretical vs empirical research.

Theoretical vs Empirical Definition

When dealing with empirical research, you focus on data collection and summarizing. The best summary is a model and the best models are held to be true. The use of a specific model to conduct your exploration is referred to as theoretical research. You can also use the  theoretical framework in meta-analysis . This is a kind of work that has the sole aim to combine the empirical findings from existing inter-firm resourcefulness literature. It is also important to understand all these concepts as well as the other  basics of literature  in order to completely and successfully write these papers.

Some of the elements of the literature review that you will need to clearly understand based on your topic will include ; types of literary research, steps in the literature review, tertiary literature, primary   and secondary sources of literature review  and how to best apply them in your paper,  conducting appropriate review of secondary literature , and henceforth. Understand all the relevant concepts and rules used will help you to produce a high-quality literature review that can help your audience clearly understand what other authors found on a topic and how your argument is justifiable. Remember, if you are not able to understand all the concepts, great companies that help students, for example, Peachy Essay, are always ready and willing to come to your aid. The company can offer great examples on this type of write-ups including  sources of literature review PPTX, sources of literature review PDF, methodology PDFs , and  theoretical articles examples  which can all help you better understand this kind of work.

Difference between Literature Review and Secondary Research

What is Secondary Research?

Now that we have a great idea of what a literature review constitutes, let us explore the true meaning of the secondary research. Once we have this, we shall be able to easily distinguish between the two and identify the major differences. By definition, secondary research alludes to the use of already existing data as a method or enquiry. Also referred to as desk research, the method entails summarizing of existing data and collating it in a bid to increase the effectiveness of the exploration. The materials in this kind of study include research material that is already published in research reports or similar documents like other  desk research report samples . The  secondary literature sources  are usually available in websites, libraries, and information that may be included in filled surveys. Some of the data may also be stored by the government and non-government agencies and may be made available for the purpose of research.

Secondary research is always viewed as a cheaper method of exploration than primary research since it employs data that is already in existence unlike where you need to first collect data. In order to successfully complete this kind of inquiries, you will need to understand some basics which include: secondary qualitative data, what is a secondary analysis, review of secondary literature, and some other forms of literary research. All this will be highly important when you are handling this kind of work since you will need to know the best ways to collect this secondary data and analyse it.

Differences between the Literature Review and Secondary Data

As discussed above, literature reviews and secondary research are different in the following ways:

When you clearly understand the two, it becomes easier for you to identify the differences. At Peachy Essay , the highly experienced team of experts are able to offer you secondary data project report, literature-based dissertation example PDF, politics dissertation methodology example as well as theoretical analysis example and theoretical article examples which are all meant to be useful resources when you are trying to understand the differences between the two. It is always important to clearly identify the different elements when you need to come up with a great paper.

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Literature Review vs Systematic Review

Original Research Article/Primary Research Article

secondary literature review

Parts of the Article

secondary literature review

Sample Author Search in Google Scholar

This is a search for the author, U Fayyad. Search for your author by first initial and last name. Note the number of times the article is cited. Use SJSU GetText to retrieve the article.

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Chapter Six: Reviewing the Secondary Literature / Types of Literature Reviews / Reading Like a Researcher

Reviewing the Secondary Literature

Topics discussed on this page include:

What is the Purpose of the Review?

The annotated bibliography, the literature review, what do we mean by literature, what is the scope of the review.

The literature review provides your reader of an overview of the existing research about your topic or problem. Creating the literature review involves more than gathering citations. It is a qualitative process through which you will discover what is already known about your topic, and identify the key authorities, methods, and theoretical foundations so you can begin to position your contributions within the scholarly conversation.

Further, the literature review sharpens the focus of your research and demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of the scholarly conversation around your topic, which in turn helps establish your credibility as a researcher.

We suggest you begin putting your research together by making an annotated bibliography  (or  annotated list of sources ), then synthesize your research sources by looking for through lines in them (arguments, narratives, trends, etc.), then determine which type of literature review  works best for your project (we discuss these types on the following page). To help you gather annotated materials in one place, we provide a matrix tool   that helps you organize and synthesize your research. The annotated bibliography serves numerous purposes:

The annotated bibliography, unlike the literature review, does not need to be essayistic. To create an annotated bibliography, use either the matrix tool or write a separate paragraph for each entry. An annotated bibliography organizes sources alphabetically and explains not only a summary of each source, but also addresses the source’s credibility and explains its relevance to your research project. An example of an annotated bibliography , created by UCF student Dolores Batten, explains how her readings related to her research project (which was to develop methods for improving student writing).

Writing a literary studies research paper involves time and effort, with much of it going towards the development of a  literature review .  A literature review might fill several pages of your research paper and usually appears soon after an introduction and before you present your analysis. A literature review provides your audience with an overview of the available research about your area(s) of study, including the literary work, your theory, and methodology. The literature review demonstrates how these scholarly discussions have changed over time and it allows you to position your research in relation to research that has come before yours. Your aim is to narrate the discussion up to this point. Depending on the nature of the assignment, you may also include your critical commentary on prior research, noting among this material the weaker and stronger arguments, breakthroughs and dead ends, blind spots and opportunities, the invention of key terms and methods, mistakes as well as misreadings, and so on.

Once you have gathered the research materials you need for your literature review, you have yet another task in front of you: conducting an analysis on said research for your original contribution, which is the part where you discover and bring something new to the conversation. As the saying goes, “we are standing on the shoulders of giants.” Your job is to show a portrait to your audience of these giants and to show how your work relates to it.

Some beginning researchers try to tear down the work of other researchers in an effort to make their own work look good by comparison. It rarely works. First, it tends to make your audience justly skeptical of your claims. Second, it ignores the fact that even the mistakes, blind spots, and failures of other researchers contribute something to our knowledge. Albert Einstein didn’t trash Sir Isaac Newton by saying his theory of space was wrong and terrible and that his own theory was great by comparison. He built upon Newton’s work, showing how it could be improved. If, however, a researcher willfully set out to deceive others, then their work does not deserve such deference.

Before you begin work on your literature review, let’s discuss what we mean by “literature,” understand the purpose and scope of the review, establish criteria for selecting, organizing, and interpreting your findings, and, finally, discuss how to connect your findings to your research question.

When we use the word “literature” in the phrase “literature review,” we are not talking about literary writing such as novels, poems, and plays, but about scholarly research. Our objective is to tell the story of research up to the point when you add your own contribution. You should use this time to think about what types of information and resources you will need to complete your project. In the case of literary studies, we often start with peer-reviewed journal articles and scholarly monographs (books) that can be accessed through the library catalog and subject databases. These are both essential resources, but you may need more.

For Jada’s research project about James Baldwin’s ‘Sonny’s Blues,” we might also think about exploring newspapers and primary source collections related to civil rights, African American studies, and social activism. Other topics might require different types of media, data sets, case studies, etc.

More about searching for these sources will be discussed in the library resources portion. In the meantime, let’s break down the literature review a little further.

Defining the scope of your review will also help you establish criteria to determine the relevance of the sources you are finding. At this stage, you are not reading in-depth; you are taking snapshots of what has been published, identifying major concepts, theories, methodologies, and methods while identifying connections, tensions, and contradictions within what Michael Patton calls the “intellectual heritage” of your topic or problem.

This work involves building on the knowledge of others and understanding what methods, measures, and models we have inherited from previous researchers in our field.

For more about Dr. Patton’s thoughts on the literature review, watch this short video:

Video provided courtesy of the Center for Quality Research (CQR)

Before we take a look at types of reviews, here are some key Dos and Don’ts:

Strategies for Conducting Literary Research by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Research Process

Primary Sources

Primary resources contain first-hand information, meaning that you are reading the author’s own account on a specific topic or event that s/he participated in. Examples of primary resources include scholarly research articles, books, and diaries. Primary sources such as research articles often do not explain terminology and theoretical principles in detail. Thus, readers of primary scholarly research should have foundational knowledge of the subject area. Use primary resources to obtain a first-hand account to an actual event and identify original research done in a field. For many of your papers, use of primary resources will be a requirement.

Examples of a primary source are:

How to locate primary research in NU Library:

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, summarize, or discuss information or details originally presented in another source; meaning the author, in most cases, did not participate in the event. This type of source is written for a broad audience and will include definitions of discipline specific terms, history relating to the topic, significant theories and principles, and summaries of major studies/events as related to the topic. Use secondary sources to obtain an overview of a topic and/or identify primary resources. Refrain from including such resources in an annotated bibliography for doctoral level work unless there is a good reason.

Examples of a secondary source are:

Locate  secondary resources in NU Library within the following databases:

Beginning the Resarch Process Workshop

This workshop introduces to the beginning stages of the research process, focusing on identifying different types of information, as well as gathering background information through electronic books.

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  3. Literature Review -10 Primary Sources Of Literature Review

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  5. Difference between Literature Review and Secondary Research

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  1. Literature Review 2

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  5. Reviewing Related Literature

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  1. Types of Literature

    Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples

  2. Primary & Secondary Sources

    Research summaries reported in textbooks, magazines, and newspapers are considered secondary sources. They typically provide global

  3. Systematic Reviews and Secondary Research

    Secondary Research is when researchers collect lots of research that has already been published on a certain subject.

  4. The Literature Review: Primary and secondary sources

    Whereas secondary sources are any publshed or unpublished works that describe, summarise, analyse, evaluate, interpret or review primary source

  5. What's a Primary Source? or a Literature Search?

    Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples

  6. Difference between Literature Review and Secondary Research

    The literature review computes, describes, summarizes, and objectively carries out an evaluation and clarification of the previous investigation

  7. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    Literature Review vs Systematic Review · Original Research Article/Primary Research Article · Sample Author Search in Google Scholar.

  8. Reviewing the Secondary Literature

    Note: not all research papers contain literature reviews in their finished or published form. Check your assignment and guidelines to see if one is required

  9. Primary and Secondary Resources

    Secondary Sources · Annual Reviews (scholarly article reviews) · Credo Reference (encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks & more) · Ebook Central (

  10. Dealing with Secondary Literature

    By breaking this process down into six steps, we can begin to unpack some important aspects of secondary literature review and analysis. This workbook is