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EVR 2001: Introduction to Environmental Science

What Is A Literature Review?

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.

Steps for Conducting a Lit Review

1. Choose your topic, define your question

  • Your literature review should be guided by a central research question.  Remember, it is not a collection of loosely related studies in a field but instead represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

  • How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches

4. Conduct your searches and find the literature. Keep track of your searches!

  • Review the abstracts and conclusions carefully. This will save you time.
  • Write down the keywords you used and where you found them
  • Use RefWorks to keep track of your citations.

5. Review the literature! This is the most time consuming part.

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions. Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited?; if so, how has it been analyzed?