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Preparing to Write the Literature Review: Introduction

This guide describes search techniques to help you conduct your review of the literature. It assumes you already have a research problem to investigate and you know how to do basic research. It does not show you how to write your literature review.

If You Are New to Research

What is the "Literature"?

What is the "Literature"?

The "literature" is the body of scholarly work in any given field.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, and conference proceedings relevant to your research problem, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work.

Purpose of the literature review:

  • Provides a historical background for your research problem
  • Describes its current status
  • Supports the purpose of the study
  • Identifies gaps in the literature
  • Become aware of variables relevant to the problem
  • Understand the seminal studies widely cited
  • Identifies the leading scholars relevant to the problem 

(Lunenburg, 2008)

Things to Know

Three important things to know about research

  • Start early: the library has thousands of books and articles online. If we don’t have what you need, we will get it for you, but this process takes about a week.
  • Be prepared: bring a flash drive with you always so you can save what you find, OR use a citation manager.
  • Take notes about how you found your results! Maybe keep a “research journal.”

Literature Reviews vs. Original Research

Nearly every scholarly research article begins with a brief, basic review of existing literature. This review introduces the subject being investigated and what is already known about it, in order to provide context for the author's new research.

Check the "Introduction" section of this original research article for an example: 

There is also a whole category of scholarly articles known as literature reviews. (Generally, these will use words like "Literature Review," "Review," or "Review of the Literature" right in the title.) These articles do not conduct new research, but only review existing research on some subject, in order to summarize the current state of knowledge and help other researchers exploring the same topic.

An example of a Literature Review article:

Ask Your Instructor

If you have any of these questions

How far back should you look?

How many sources should you have?

What kinds of sources should you use?

Ask your instructor! Different departments have different requirements.

Research Tools