A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, sometimes within a certain time period. The body of the review will contain summaries of your sources (scholarly articles). However, a literature review is not simply a list of article summaries. Rather, it has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. The purpose of a literature review is not only to tell your reader the state of scholarship about a given topic, but also to organize and evaluate the major points, parts, or arguments of each source.
It will consider the following questions:
- What is the gap in the literature/problem with previous research?
- What conflict or unanswered question, untested population, untried method in existing research does your experiment address?
- What findings of others are you challenging or extending?
Your review must read like a coherent paper. A literature review is discursive prose which proceeds to a conclusion by reason or argument.
Reference to prior literature is a defining feature of scholarly and research writing. Such references put your own work into context, establishing your credibility and enabling you to demonstrate how your current work builds upon or deviates from earlier publications.
Include all works cited. Use the citation style required in your field for both in-text citations and for the References section.
1) Choose a focus for your review: What topic or research area particularly interests you? Do you know what (if any) research has been done on this topic? Look for research via an article data base. A good place to start is https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/articles/.
2) After you have scanned some articles on your topic ask yourself: "What is missing? What would I like to know about this topic that is not addressed, or not addressed adequately, by the articles I have looked over?" Your answer is your thesis statement for the review. (Introduction)
The mentally ill face a multitude of challenges. (Location statement which puts the topic in context) One of those challenges is the stigmatization they face. (Narrowing the topic) Stigmatization is social rejection; they are rejected by people because of the label they carry or that their behaviors clearly indicate that they belong to a certain labeled group. (Defining terms/more details) Stigmatization of the mentally ill is caused by the publics belief in myths about the dangerousness of the mentally ill and exposing those myths can reduce stigmatization. (Thesis statement)
3) Synthesize the articles, or show how they fit together to partially support your thesis statement. Discuss why those articles do not adequately answer your questions in Section 2. You could also include some observations about the research methods if they appear flawed. (Body) Suggest what further research needs to be done to answer your questions. (Conclusion)
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.