Graduate Studies @ Fontbonne

Everything you need to know to get started on your lit review.

Overview

A literature review is a systematic review of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature review is designed to analyze and synthesize (not just summarize) scholarly writings related directly to your research question. A successful review will survey the landscape of your topic, familiarizing you with key names and appropriate vocabulary and providing the groundwork for your own research.

What you choose to survey can vary depending on your project or field, but can include:

  • books
  • journal articles
  • published data
  • theses
  • dissertations

A thorough review might also survey documents and materials that can be harder to locate:

  • technical reports
  • government publications
  • working papers
  • white papers
  • preprints

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A literature review may constitute an essential chapter of a thesis or dissertation or it may be a self-contained review of writings on a particular subject. In either case, its purpose is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration
  • Identify new ways to interpret and shed light on any gaps in previous research
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort
  • Point the way forward for further research
  • Place one's original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of existing literature

The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.

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