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Master's Students Guide

What is a Literature Review

A literature review is an academic survey of books, journal articles, thesis, and dissertations related to a specific topic, an area of study, or concept. The literature review provides not just a summary, but also a critical assessment related to these particular sources.

It is important to remember that a literature review is not an annotated bibliography in which one only summarizes briefly each scholarly article, book, thesis that have been reviewed, it goes well beyond merely summarizing professional literature.

Literature Review Steps:

Content of a Literature Review

A Literature Review is usually composed of 3 sections:

1- Introduction:

  • Define your topic and provide an appropriate context for reviewing the literature
  • Explain the organization – i.e., sequence – of the review
  • State the scope of the review – i.e., what is included and what isn’t included.

2- Body:

The middle or main body should:

  • Organize the literature according to common themes.
  • Provide insight into the relationship between your chosen topic and the wider subject area.
  • Move from a general, wider view of the literature being reviewed to the specific focus of your research.

3- Conclusion

The conclusion should:

  • Summarize the important aspects of the existing body of literature.
  • Evaluate the current state of the literature reviewed.
  • Identify significant flaws or gaps in existing knowledge.
  • Outline areas for future study.

Common Ways to structure the body of your Literature Review

These are some of the most common ways to structure the body of your literature review:

  • Chronological: Organize by how the topic has changed over time.  Define it; explain how it has evolved over time; and conclude with how it is viewed today.
  • Broad to Specific: - Begin with the general and narrow down to specific issues until you reach articles similar to your research statement.
  • Prominent Authors: Use the bibliography or references to identify prominent authors who may have started or helped develop the field that is the topic of your review.
  • Major Models or Major Theories: Group articles by the theoretical framework preferred by the author of the article.
  • Contrasting Thoughts: Authors have contrasting views about a topic, group the literature review by those schools of thought and contrast their different approaches.
  • Problem to Solution: Group quotations from articles describing problems being addressed in your research, then group by solutions proposed in the articles.

Helpful Books