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What is a literature review?
A literature review is both the process and the product.
- A literature review is a descriptive, analytic summary of the existing material relating to a particular topic or area of study.
- The literature review process involves a systematic examination of prior scholarly works.
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?
- To help you understand a research topic
- To establish the importance of a topic
- To help develop your own ideas
- To make sure you are not simply replicating research that others have already successfully completed
- To demonstrate knowledge and show how your current work is situated within, builds on, or departs from earlier publications
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
- Literature Review: Lit Review Types A full list of types of reviews with definitions from Duke University Medical Center Library and Archives.
Books/Book Chapters on Literature Reviews
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- Last Updated: Feb 8, 2023 11:29 AM
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- Education Literature Review
Education Literature Review: Education Literature Review
What does this guide cover, the basic process, the role of the literature review, search for literature, staying organized, writing the literature review, beyond the literature review, books and articles about the lit review.
Writing the literature review is a long, complex process that requires you to use many different tools, resources, and skills.
This page provides links to the guides, tutorials, and webinars that can help you with all aspects of completing your literature review.
These resources provide overviews of the entire literature review process. Start here if you are new to the literature review process.
- Literature Reviews Overview : Writing Center
- How to do a Literature Review : Library
- Video: Common Errors Made When Conducting a Lit Review (YouTube)
Your literature review gives your readers an understanding of the evolution of scholarly research on your topic.
In your literature review you will:
- survey the scholarly landscape
- provide a synthesis of the issues, trends, and concepts
- possibly provide some historical background
Review the literature in two ways:
- Section 1: reviews the literature for the Problem
- Section 3: reviews the literature for the Project
The literature review is NOT an annotated bibliography. Nor should it simply summarize the articles you've read. Literature reviews are organized thematically and demonstrate synthesis of the literature.
For more information, view the Library's short video on searching by themes:
Short Video: Research for the Literature Review
(4 min 10 sec) Recorded August 2019 Transcript
The iterative process of research:
- Find an article.
- Read the article and build new searches using keywords and names from the article.
- Mine the bibliography for other works.
- Use “cited by” searches to find more recent works that reference the article.
- Repeat steps 2-4 with the new articles you find.
These are the main skills and resources you will need in order to effectively search for literature on your topic:
- Subject Research: Education by Jon Allinder Last Updated Apr 1, 2022 2624 views this year
- Keyword Searching: Finding Articles on Your Topic by Lynn VanLeer Last Updated Feb 15, 2023 8627 views this year
- Google Scholar by Jon Allinder Last Updated Dec 9, 2022 18268 views this year
- Quick Answer: How do I find books and articles that cite an article I already have?
- Quick Answer: How do I find a measurement, test, survey or instrument?
Video: Education Databases and Doctoral Research Resources
(6 min 04 sec) Recorded April 2019 Transcript
The literature review requires organizing a variety of information. The following resources will help you develop the organizational systems you'll need to be successful.
- Organize your research
- Citation Management Software
You can make your search log as simple or complex as you would like. It can be a table in a word document or an excel spread sheet. Here are two examples. The word document is a basic table where you can keep track of databases, search terms, limiters, results and comments. The Excel sheet is more complex and has additional sheets for notes, Google Scholar log; Journal Log, and Questions to ask the Librarian.
- Search Log Example Sample search log in Excel
- Search Log Example Sample search log set up as a table in a word document.
- Literature Review Matrix Semple template for organizing and synthesizing your research
The following resources created by the Writing Center and the Academic Skills Center support the writing process for the dissertation/project study.
- Critical Reading
- What is Synthesis
- Walden Templates
- Quick Answer: How do I find Walden EdD (Doctor of Education) studies?
- Quick Answer: How do I find Walden PhD dissertations?
The literature review isn't the only portion of a dissertation/project study that requires searching. The following resources can help you identify and utilize a theory, methodology, measurement instruments, or statistics.
- Education Theory by Jon Allinder Last Updated May 1, 2022 216 views this year
- Tests & Measures in Education by Kimberly Burton Last Updated Nov 18, 2021 32 views this year
- Education Statistics by Jon Allinder Last Updated Feb 22, 2022 39 views this year
- Office of Research and Doctoral Services
The following articles and books outline the purpose of the literature review and offer advice for successfully completing one.
- Chen, D. T. V., Wang, Y. M., & Lee, W. C. (2016). Challenges confronting beginning researchers in conducting literature reviews. Studies in Continuing Education, 38(1), 47-60. https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2015.1030335 Proposes a framework to conceptualize four types of challenges students face: linguistic, methodological, conceptual, and ontological.
- Randolph, J.J. (2009). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation 14(13), 1-13. Provides advice for writing a quantitative or qualitative literature review, by a Walden faculty member.
- Torraco, R. J. (2016). Writing integrative literature reviews: Using the past and present to explore the future. Human Resource Development Review, 15(4), 404–428. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484316671606 This article presents the integrative review of literature as a distinctive form of research that uses existing literature to create new knowledge.
- Wee, B. V., & Banister, D. (2016). How to write a literature review paper?. Transport Reviews, 36(2), 278-288. http://doi.org/10.1080/01441647.2015.1065456 Discusses how to write a literature review with a focus on adding value rather and suggests structural and contextual aspects found in outstanding literature reviews.
- Winchester, C. L., & Salji, M. (2016). Writing a literature review. Journal of Clinical Urology, 9(5), 308-312. https://doi.org/10.1177/2051415816650133 Reviews the use of different document types to add structure and enrich your literature review and the skill sets needed in writing the literature review.
- Xiao, Y., & Watson, M. (2017). Guidance on conducting a systematic literature review. Journal of Planning Education and Research. https://doi.org/10.1177/0739456X17723971 Examines different types of literature reviews and the steps necessary to produce a systematic review in educational research.
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Educational Leadership Doctoral Program
- Background Sources & Research Methods
- Identifying Empirical Articles
- Writing a Literature Review
- Citing Sources
Friendly Library Staff
Educational Leadership Doctoral Program - Welcome
This library guide has been created to assist you in your research during your Educational Leadership doctoral program. It provides links to the major library databases in the field of educational leadership and has other aids for the process of writing a literature review and conducting educational research. Please contact us, Dr. Kirk Moll, [email protected] or Dr. Stephanie Thompson, [email protected] for any additional assistance. To set up an individual appointment, use the Schedule Appointment or Email link. We can meet with you either in-person or virtually as needed.
- Next: Background Sources & Research Methods >>
- Last Updated: Feb 23, 2023 2:42 PM
- URL: https://library.ship.edu/eldp
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Education Research Guide: How to Write a Literature Review
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- How to Write a Literature Review
- Library Session Survey
Literature Reviews Explained
Use the articles below to learn about:
- what a literature review is
- how to select and research a topic
- how to write a literature review
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill The Writing Center: Literature Reviews
- OWL (Purdue University Online Writing Lab): Using APA to format your Literature Review
Synthesizing is a method of analyzing the main ideas and important information from your sources as you read and prepare to write a literature review. Review the resources below for sample synthesizing methods. Both examples have tables you can fill out as you read articles to help you organize your thoughts.
- Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix: NC University Tutorial Center
- Matrix Example from the University of West Florida Libraries
Sample Literature Reviews
Make sure you follow any instructions from you professor on how to format your literature review! Use the examples below to get ideas for how you might write about the sources you found in your research.
- Synthesizing Cornelsen This article is included in "Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix" to illustrate synthesizing articles in the sample matrix.
- Synthesizing: Bruley This article is included in "Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix" to illustrate synthesizing articles in the sample matrix.
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Chapter 1: Introduction
At the conclusion of this chapter, you will be able to:
- Identify the purpose of the literature review in the research process
- Distinguish between different types of literature reviews
1.1 What is a Literature Review?
Pick up nearly any book on research methods and you will find a description of a literature review. At a basic level, the term implies a survey of factual or nonfiction books, articles, and other documents published on a particular subject. Definitions may be similar across the disciplines, with new types and definitions continuing to emerge. Generally speaking, a literature review is a:
- “comprehensive background of the literature within the interested topic area…” ( O’Gorman & MacIntosh, 2015, p. 31 ).
- “critical component of the research process that provides an in-depth analysis of recently published research findings in specifically identified areas of interest.” ( House, 2018, p. 109 ).
- “written document that presents a logically argued case founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about a topic of study” ( Machi & McEvoy, 2012, p. 4 ).
As a foundation for knowledge advancement in every discipline, it is an important element of any research project. At the graduate or doctoral level, the literature review is an essential feature of thesis and dissertation, as well as grant proposal writing. That is to say, “A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a precondition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research…A researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field.” ( Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 3 ). It is by this means, that a researcher demonstrates familiarity with a body of knowledge and thereby establishes credibility with a reader. An advanced-level literature review shows how prior research is linked to a new project, summarizing and synthesizing what is known while identifying gaps in the knowledge base, facilitating theory development, closing areas where enough research already exists, and uncovering areas where more research is needed. ( Webster & Watson, 2002, p. xiii )
A graduate-level literature review is a compilation of the most significant previously published research on your topic. Unlike an annotated bibliography or a research paper you may have written as an undergraduate, your literature review will outline, evaluate and synthesize relevant research and relate those sources to your own thesis or research question. It is much more than a summary of all the related literature.
It is a type of writing that demonstrate the importance of your research by defining the main ideas and the relationship between them. A good literature review lays the foundation for the importance of your stated problem and research question.
- define a concept
- map the research terrain or scope
- systemize relationships between concepts
- identify gaps in the literature ( Rocco & Plathotnik, 2009, p. 128 )
The purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate that your research question is meaningful. Additionally, you may review the literature of different disciplines to find deeper meaning and understanding of your topic. It is especially important to consider other disciplines when you do not find much on your topic in one discipline. You will need to search the cognate literature before claiming there is “little previous research” on your topic.
Well developed literature reviews involve numerous steps and activities. The literature review is an iterative process because you will do at least two of them: a preliminary search to learn what has been published in your area and whether there is sufficient support in the literature for moving ahead with your subject. After this first exploration, you will conduct a deeper dive into the literature to learn everything you can about the topic and its related issues.
Literature Review Tutorial
1.2 Literature Review Basics
An effective literature review must:
- Methodologically analyze and synthesize quality literature on a topic
- Provide a firm foundation to a topic or research area
- Provide a firm foundation for the selection of a research methodology
- Demonstrate that the proposed research contributes something new to the overall body of knowledge of advances the research field’s knowledge base. ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).
All literature reviews, whether they are qualitative, quantitative or both, will at some point:
- Introduce the topic and define its key terms
- Establish the importance of the topic
- Provide an overview of the amount of available literature and its types (for example: theoretical, statistical, speculative)
- Identify gaps in the literature
- Point out consistent finding across studies
- Arrive at a synthesis that organizes what is known about a topic
- Discusses possible implications and directions for future research
1.3 Types of Literature Reviews
There are many different types of literature reviews, however there are some shared characteristics or features. Remember a comprehensive literature review is, at its most fundamental level, an original work based on an extensive critical examination and synthesis of the relevant literature on a topic. As a study of the research on a particular topic, it is arranged by key themes or findings, which may lead up to or link to the research question. In some cases, the research question will drive the type of literature review that is undertaken.
The following section includes brief descriptions of the terms used to describe different literature review types with examples of each. The included citations are open access, Creative Commons licensed or copyright-restricted.
1.3.1 Types of Review
Guided by an understanding of basic issues rather than a research methodology. You are looking for key factors, concepts or variables and the presumed relationship between them. The goal of the conceptual literature review is to categorize and describe concepts relevant to your study or topic and outline a relationship between them. You will include relevant theory and empirical research.
Examples of a Conceptual Review:
- Education : The formality of learning science in everyday life: A conceptual literature review. ( Dohn, 2010 ).
- Education : Are we asking the right questions? A conceptual review of the educational development literature in higher education. ( Amundsen & Wilson, 2012 ).
An empirical literature review collects, creates, arranges, and analyzes numeric data reflecting the frequency of themes, topics, authors and/or methods found in existing literature. Empirical literature reviews present their summaries in quantifiable terms using descriptive and inferential statistics.
Examples of an Empirical Review:
- Nursing : False-positive findings in Cochrane meta-analyses with and without application of trial sequential analysis: An empirical review. ( Imberger, Thorlund, Gluud, & Wettersley, 2016 ).
- Education : Impediments of e-learning adoption in higher learning institutions of Tanzania: An empirical review ( Mwakyusa & Mwalyagile, 2016 ).
Unlike a synoptic literature review, the purpose here is to provide a broad approach to the topic area. The aim is breadth rather than depth and to get a general feel for the size of the topic area. A graduate student might do an exploratory review of the literature before beginning a synoptic, or more comprehensive one.
Examples of an Exploratory Review:
- Education : University research management: An exploratory literature review. ( Schuetzenmeister, 2010 ).
- Education : An exploratory review of design principles in constructivist gaming learning environments. ( Rosario & Widmeyer, 2009 ).
A type of literature review limited to a single aspect of previous research, such as methodology. A focused literature review generally will describe the implications of choosing a particular element of past research, such as methodology in terms of data collection, analysis and interpretation.
Examples of a Focused Review:
- Nursing : Clinical inertia in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: A focused literature review. ( Khunti, Davies, & Khunti, 2015 ).
- Education : Language awareness: Genre awareness-a focused review of the literature. ( Stainton, 1992 ).
Critiques past research and draws overall conclusions from the body of literature at a specified point in time. Reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way. Most integrative reviews are intended to address mature topics or emerging topics. May require the author to adopt a guiding theory, a set of competing models, or a point of view about a topic. For more description of integrative reviews, see Whittemore & Knafl (2005).
Examples of an Integrative Review:
- Nursing : Interprofessional teamwork and collaboration between community health workers and healthcare teams: An integrative review. ( Franklin, Bernhardt, Lopez, Long-Middleton, & Davis, 2015 ).
- Education : Exploring the gap between teacher certification and permanent employment in Ontario: An integrative literature review. ( Brock & Ryan, 2016 ).
A subset of a systematic review, that takes findings from several studies on the same subject and analyzes them using standardized statistical procedures to pool together data. Integrates findings from a large body of quantitative findings to enhance understanding, draw conclusions, and detect patterns and relationships. Gather data from many different, independent studies that look at the same research question and assess similar outcome measures. Data is combined and re-analyzed, providing a greater statistical power than any single study alone. It’s important to note that not every systematic review includes a meta-analysis but a meta-analysis can’t exist without a systematic review of the literature.
Examples of a Meta-Analysis:
- Education : Efficacy of the cooperative learning method on mathematics achievement and attitude: A meta-analysis research. ( Capar & Tarim, 2015 ).
- Nursing : A meta-analysis of the effects of non-traditional teaching methods on the critical thinking abilities of nursing students. ( Lee, Lee, Gong, Bae, & Choi, 2016 ).
- Education : Gender differences in student attitudes toward science: A meta-analysis of the literature from 1970 to 1991. ( Weinburgh, 1995 ).
An overview of research on a particular topic that critiques and summarizes a body of literature. Typically broad in focus. Relevant past research is selected and synthesized into a coherent discussion. Methodologies, findings and limits of the existing body of knowledge are discussed in narrative form. Sometimes also referred to as a traditional literature review. Requires a sufficiently focused research question. The process may be subject to bias that supports the researcher’s own work.
Examples of a Narrative/Traditional Review:
- Nursing : Family carers providing support to a person dying in the home setting: A narrative literature review. ( Morris, King, Turner, & Payne, 2015 ).
- Education : Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. ( Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997 ).
- Education : Good quality discussion is necessary but not sufficient in asynchronous tuition: A brief narrative review of the literature. ( Fear & Erikson-Brown, 2014 ).
- Nursing : Outcomes of physician job satisfaction: A narrative review, implications, and directions for future research. ( Williams & Skinner, 2003 ).
Aspecific type of literature review that is theory-driven and interpretative and is intended to explain the outcomes of a complex intervention program(s).
Examples of a Realist Review:
- Nursing : Lean thinking in healthcare: A realist review of the literature. ( Mazzacato, Savage, Brommels, 2010 ).
- Education : Unravelling quality culture in higher education: A realist review. ( Bendermacher, Egbrink, Wolfhagen, & Dolmans, 2017 ).
Tend to be non-systematic and focus on breadth of coverage conducted on a topic rather than depth. Utilize a wide range of materials; may not evaluate the quality of the studies as much as count the number. One means of understanding existing literature. Aims to identify nature and extent of research; preliminary assessment of size and scope of available research on topic. May include research in progress.
Examples of a Scoping Review:
- Nursing : Organizational interventions improving access to community-based primary health care for vulnerable populations: A scoping review. ( Khanassov, Pluye, Descoteaux, Haggerty, Russell, Gunn, & Levesque, 2016 ).
- Education : Interdisciplinary doctoral research supervision: A scoping review. ( Vanstone, Hibbert, Kinsella, McKenzie, Pitman, & Lingard, 2013 ).
- Nursing : A scoping review of the literature on the abolition of user fees in health care services in Africa. ( Ridde, & Morestin, 2011 ).
Unlike an exploratory review, the purpose is to provide a concise but accurate overview of all material that appears to be relevant to a chosen topic. Both content and methodological material is included. The review should aim to be both descriptive and evaluative. Summarizes previous studies while also showing how the body of literature could be extended and improved in terms of content and method by identifying gaps.
Examples of a Synoptic Review:
- Education : Theoretical framework for educational assessment: A synoptic review. ( Ghaicha, 2016 ).
- Education : School effects research: A synoptic review of past efforts and some suggestions for the future. ( Cuttance, 1981 ).
126.96.36.199 Systematic Review
A rigorous review that follows a strict methodology designed with a presupposed selection of literature reviewed. Undertaken to clarify the state of existing research, the evidence, and possible implications that can be drawn from that. Using comprehensive and exhaustive searching of the published and unpublished literature, searching various databases, reports, and grey literature. Transparent and reproducible in reporting details of time frame, search and methods to minimize bias. Must include a team of at least 2-3 and includes the critical appraisal of the literature. For more description of systematic reviews, including links to protocols, checklists, workflow processes, and structure see “ A Young Researcher’s Guide to a Systematic Review “.
Examples of a Systematic Review:
- Education : The potentials of using cloud computing in schools: A systematic literature review ( Hartmann, Braae, Pedersen, & Khalid, 2017 )
- Nursing : Is butter back? A systematic review and meta-analysis of butter consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and total mortality. ( Pimpin, Wu, Haskelberg, Del Gobbo, & Mozaffarian, 2016 ).
- Education : The use of research to improve professional practice: a systematic review of the literature. ( Hemsley-Brown & Sharp, 2003 ).
- Nursing : Using computers to self-manage type 2 diabetes. ( Pal, Eastwood, Michie, Farmer, Barnard, Peacock, Wood, Inniss, & Murray, 2013 ).
188.8.131.52 Umbrella/Overview of Reviews
Compiles evidence from multiple systematic reviews into one document. Focuses on broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address those interventions and their effects. Often used in recommendations for practice.
Examples of an Umbrella/Overview Review:
- Education : Reflective practice in healthcare education: An umbrella review. ( Fragknos, 2016 ).
- Nursing : Systematic reviews of psychosocial interventions for autism: an umbrella review. ( Seida, Ospina, Karkhaneh, Hartling, Smith, & Clark, 2009 ).
For a brief discussion see “ Not all literature reviews are the same ” (Thomson, 2013).
1.4 Why do a Literature Review?
The purpose of the literature review is the same regardless of the topic or research method. It tests your own research question against what is already known about the subject.
1.4.1 First – It’s part of the whole. Omission of a literature review chapter or section in a graduate-level project represents a serious void or absence of critical element in the research process.
The outcome of your review is expected to demonstrate that you:
- can systematically explore the research in your topic area
- can read and critically analyze the literature in your discipline and then use it appropriately to advance your own work
- have sufficient knowledge in the topic to undertake further investigation
1.4.2 Second – It’s good for you!
- You improve your skills as a researcher
- You become familiar with the discourse of your discipline and learn how to be a scholar in your field
- You learn through writing your ideas and finding your voice in your subject area
- You define, redefine and clarify your research question for yourself in the process
1.4.3 Third – It’s good for your reader. Your reader expects you to have done the hard work of gathering, evaluating and synthesizes the literature. When you do a literature review you:
- Set the context for the topic and present its significance
- Identify what’s important to know about your topic – including individual material, prior research, publications, organizations and authors.
- Demonstrate relationships among prior research
- Establish limitations of existing knowledge
- Analyze trends in the topic’s treatment and gaps in the literature
1.4.4 Why do a literature review?
- To locate gaps in the literature of your discipline
- To avoid reinventing the wheel
- To carry on where others have already been
- To identify other people working in the same field
- To increase your breadth of knowledge in your subject area
- To find the seminal works in your field
- To provide intellectual context for your own work
- To acknowledge opposing viewpoints
- To put your work in perspective
- To demonstrate you can discover and retrieve previous work in the area
1.5 Common Literature Review Errors
Graduate-level literature reviews are more than a summary of the publications you find on a topic. As you have seen in this brief introduction, literature reviews are a very specific type of research, analysis, and writing. We will explore these topics more in the next chapters. Some things to keep in mind as you begin your own research and writing are ways to avoid the most common errors seen in the first attempt at a literature review. For a quick review of some of the pitfalls and challenges a new researcher faces when he/she begins work, see “ Get Ready: Academic Writing, General Pitfalls and (oh yes) Getting Started! ”.
As you begin your own graduate-level literature review, try to avoid these common mistakes:
- Accepts another researcher’s finding as valid without evaluating methodology and data
- Contrary findings and alternative interpretations are not considered or mentioned
- Findings are not clearly related to one’s own study, or findings are too general
- Insufficient time allowed to define best search strategies and writing
- Isolated statistical results are simply reported rather than synthesizing the results
- Problems with selecting and using most relevant keywords, subject headings and descriptors
- Relies too heavily on secondary sources
- Search methods are not recorded or reported for transparency
- Summarizes rather than synthesizes articles
In conclusion, the purpose of a literature review is three-fold:
- to survey the current state of knowledge or evidence in the area of inquiry,
- to identify key authors, articles, theories, and findings in that area, and
- to identify gaps in knowledge in that research area.
A literature review is commonly done today using computerized keyword searches in online databases, often working with a trained librarian or information expert. Keywords can be combined using the Boolean operators, “and”, “or” and sometimes “not” to narrow down or expand the search results. Once a list of articles is generated from the keyword and subject heading search, the researcher must then manually browse through each title and abstract, to determine the suitability of that article before a full-text article is obtained for the research question.
Literature reviews should be reasonably complete, and not restricted to a few journals, a few years, or a specific methodology or research design. Reviewed articles may be summarized in the form of tables, and can be further structured using organizing frameworks such as a concept matrix.
A well-conducted literature review should indicate whether the initial research questions have already been addressed in the literature, whether there are newer or more interesting research questions available, and whether the original research questions should be modified or changed in light of findings of the literature review.
The review can also provide some intuitions or potential answers to the questions of interest and/or help identify theories that have previously been used to address similar questions and may provide evidence to inform policy or decision-making. ( Bhattacherjee, 2012 ).
Read Abstract 1. Refer to Types of Literature Reviews. What type of literature review do you think this study is and why? See the Answer Key for the correct response.
Nursing : To describe evidence of international literature on the safe care of the hospitalised child after the World Alliance for Patient Safety and list contributions of the general theoretical framework of patient safety for paediatric nursing.
An integrative literature review between 2004 and 2015 using the databases PubMed, Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Scopus, Web of Science and Wiley Online Library, and the descriptors Safety or Patient safety, Hospitalised child, Paediatric nursing, and Nursing care.
Thirty-two articles were analysed, most of which were from North American, with a descriptive approach. The quality of the recorded information in the medical records, the use of checklists, and the training of health workers contribute to safe care in paediatric nursing and improve the medication process and partnerships with parents.
General information available on patient safety should be incorporated in paediatric nursing care. ( Wegner, Silva, Peres, Bandeira, Frantz, Botene, & Predebon, 2017 ).
Read Abstract 2. Refer to Types of Literature Reviews. What type of lit review do you think this study is and why? See the Answer Key for the correct response.
Education : The focus of this paper centers around timing associated with early childhood education programs and interventions using meta-analytic methods. At any given assessment age, a child’s current age equals starting age, plus duration of program, plus years since program ended. Variability in assessment ages across the studies should enable everyone to identify the separate effects of all three time-related components. The project is a meta-analysis of evaluation studies of early childhood education programs conducted in the United States and its territories between 1960 and 2007. The population of interest is children enrolled in early childhood education programs between the ages of 0 and 5 and their control-group counterparts. Since the data come from a meta-analysis, the population for this study is drawn from many different studies with diverse samples. Given the preliminary nature of their analysis, the authors cannot offer conclusions at this point. ( Duncan, Leak, Li, Magnuson, Schindler, & Yoshikawa, 2011 ).
See Answer Key for the correct responses.
The purpose of a graduate-level literature review is to summarize in as many words as possible everything that is known about my topic.
A literature review is significant because in the process of doing one, the researcher learns to read and critically assess the literature of a discipline and then uses it appropriately to advance his/her own research.
Read the following abstract and choose the correct type of literature review it represents.
Nursing: E-cigarette use has become increasingly popular, especially among the young. Its long-term influence upon health is unknown. Aim of this review has been to present the current state of knowledge about the impact of e-cigarette use on health, with an emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe. During the preparation of this narrative review, the literature on e-cigarettes available within the network PubMed was retrieved and examined. In the final review, 64 research papers were included. We specifically assessed the construction and operation of the e-cigarette as well as the chemical composition of the e-liquid; the impact that vapor arising from the use of e-cigarette explored in experimental models in vitro; and short-term effects of use of e-cigarettes on users’ health. Among the substances inhaled by the e-smoker, there are several harmful products, such as: formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acroleine, propanal, nicotine, acetone, o-methyl-benzaldehyde, carcinogenic nitrosamines. Results from experimental animal studies indicate the negative impact of e-cigarette exposure on test models, such as ascytotoxicity, oxidative stress, inflammation, airway hyper reactivity, airway remodeling, mucin production, apoptosis, and emphysematous changes. The short-term impact of e-cigarettes on human health has been studied mostly in experimental setting. Available evidence shows that the use of e-cigarettes may result in acute lung function responses (e.g., increase in impedance, peripheral airway flow resistance) and induce oxidative stress. Based on the current available evidence, e-cigarette use is associated with harmful biologic responses, although it may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. (J ankowski, Brożek, Lawson, Skoczyński, & Zejda, 2017 ).
Education: In this review, Mary Vorsino writes that she is interested in keeping the potential influences of women pragmatists of Dewey’s day in mind while presenting modern feminist re readings of Dewey. She wishes to construct a narrowly-focused and succinct literature review of thinkers who have donned a feminist lens to analyze Dewey’s approaches to education, learning, and democracy and to employ Dewey’s works in theorizing on gender and education and on gender in society. This article first explores Dewey as both an ally and a problematic figure in feminist literature and then investigates the broader sphere of feminist pragmatism and two central themes within it: (1) valuing diversity, and diverse experiences; and (2) problematizing fixed truths. ( Vorsino, 2015 ).
Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Hello and welcome to the Educational Leadership Library Guide! I'm Michelle Desilets, your librarian for the College of Education. Please contact me if you have any questions about this guide. For general research support, please use our Ask a Librarian service.
About this Guide: This guide will help you identify some key resources to support your studies in Educational Leadership at Portland State University. The guide is organized into the following sections/tabs:
- Resources - information on article databases, books, dissertations and theses, and evidence based practice.
- Citation - information to support proper documentation/citation practices, document formatting, as well as citation management.
- Literature Review Strategies - resources and tips to support the literature review process.
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- Search Tips - video tutorials to support the search process.
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Literature Review: Conducting & Writing
What is a literature review, what is a literature review: a tutorial, literature reviews: an overview for graduate students.
- Steps for Conducting a Lit Review
- Finding "The Literature"
- Chicago: Notes Bibliography
- Sample Literature Reviews
A Literature Review Is Not:
- just a summary of sources
- a grouping of broad, unrelated sources
- a compilation of everything that has been written on a particular topic
- literature criticism (think English) or a book review
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:
- Explains the background of research on a topic.
- Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
- Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
- Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
- Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
- Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.
Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students (by North Caroline State University Libraries)
- Next: Steps for Conducting a Lit Review >>
- Last Updated: Jan 15, 2023 5:54 PM
- URL: https://libguides.uwf.edu/litreview
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
Open Google Slides Download PowerPoint
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
McCombes, S. (2023, January 02). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/
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There are eight general steps in conducting an education literature review. Please follow the eight numbered boxes, starting below.
Please note that the general framework for this guide is derived from the work of Joyce P. Gall, M.D. Gall, and Walter R. Borg in Applying Educational Research: a Practical Guide (5th ed., 2005). Also, much of the information on framing the research question comes from Emily Grimm's "Selected Reference Sources for Graduate Students in Education and Education Related Areas" (1995).
Step 1: Frame Your Research Question
- What do I want to know? For what purpose? Consider subject terms, synonyms, related concepts and approaches.
- What do I know already?
- Who else might have performed similar research and why? Consider individuals, institutions, governmental agencies and other groups.
- What summarizing or descriptive information is already available? Consider the secondary sources found below.
- For which time span(s) do I need information?
- Would recurrent or temporal events in education affect my research? For example: school terms, budget hearings, conference proceedings, legislative sessions, policy decisions, elections, administrative procedural changes.
- Do I have other limitations? For example: language, age group, grade level, type of student, type of school, type of district, geography, curricular area, or style of teaching.
- What aspects of education interest me? For example: financial, administrative, teaching, legislative, gender, parental, theoretical, research, developmental, practical or other.
Subjective Aspect Questions
- What are my values, prejudices, biases, and areas of ignorance in regard to my research question(s)?
- Will I let these prejudices limit my research?
- Will I let these prejudices influence my note taking, choice of vocabulary and indexing terms, selection of data, evaluations of the work of other researchers, inclusion of conflicting theories, reporting of data, or my conclusions?
Step 2: Contact Experts to Get Answers or for Guidance to Relevant Publications
Consider consulting other educators, faculty or government officials who may specialize in your research area.
You may also want to consult the American Educational Research Association's Special Interest Groups (SIGs) for the names of groups and individuals who have expertise in different educational areas.
Step 3: Read Secondary Sources to Gain a Broad Overview of the Literature Related to Your Research Area
Use secondary sources to further define your research question and to expand your literature search. Secondary sources include encyclopedias, handbooks, dictionaries, and thesauri. Secondary sources are resources that review research that others have done. They provide a general overview, will give you ideas for key search terms, and often include useful bibliographies for further reading.
Here are some key secondary sources and books on doing educational research:
- Educational Psychology Review Educational Psychology Review is an international forum for the publication of peer-reviewed integrative review articles, special thematic issues, reflections or comments on previous research or new research directions, interviews, and research-based advice for practitioners.
- NSSE Yearbook (Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education) Two issues are published annually; each focuses on a major education topic.
- The Phi Delta Kappan Contains many articles that cite research and analyze practical implications.
- Review of Educational Research Quarterly journal that consists of reviews of educational research literature.
Handbooks and Encyclopedias
- Encyclopedia of Education by James W. Guthrie Call Number: Online Book Publication Date: 2004
- Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory by Michael A. Peters (Editor) Call Number: Online Book Publication Date: 2017
- Encyclopedia of Special Education by Cecil R. Reynolds (Editor); Elaine Fletcher-Janzen (Editor); Kimberly J. Vannest (Editor) Call Number: Online Book Publication Date: 2014
- Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education by Eugene F. Provenzo (Editor); John Philip Renaud (Editor) Call Number: Online Book Publication Date: 2008
- Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology by J. Michael Spector (Editor); M. David Merrill (Editor); Jan Elen (Editor); M. J. Bishop (Editor) Call Number: Online Book ISBN: 9781461431855 Publication Date: 2013
- Handbook of Research on Teaching by Drew Gitomer Call Number: Online Book Publication Date: 2016
- Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children by Olivia N. Saracho (Editor); Bernard Spodek (Editor) Call Number: Online Book Publication Date: 2012
- Philosophy : Education by Brian Warnick Call Number: Online book Publication Date: 2017
Step 4: Select Preliminary Sources that Index Relevant Research Literature
Preliminary sources index primary research resources such as journal articles, conference proceeding papers, technical reports, government documents, dissertations and more. See below for key education databases:
Step 5: Identify Subject Terms, or Descriptors, and Use Them to Search Preliminary Sources
Choosing the most appropriate subject search terms, or descriptors, for searching indexes and catalogs can greatly influence your search results. A good place to start is ERIC's thesaurus of descriptors:
Step 6: Read and Evaluate Primary Sources Discovered Through Indexes
For assistance in obtaining copies of primary sources, please consult online tutorials from UC Libraries .
As you print out copies of articles, review copies of books or reports, remember to look in the sources for bibliographies, names of individuals or groups who have done research on the topic, and for additional subject terms to help you narrow or broaden your research.
Step 7: Classify the Publications You Have Reviewed into Meaningful Categories
As you review the sources you find, classify them into meaningful categories. This will help you prioritize reading them and may indicate useful ways to synthesize what you discover. You may want to create a simple code for the different categories.
Step 8: Prepare Your Literature Review Report
The following books can help you assemble a literature review report. The resource icons indicate whether the book is available in print or as an e-book.
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