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GSRE 199.02 Let Justice Roll (T Jones Jolivet): Literature Reviews

This guide will help you get started researching topics in social justice for your first year seminar.

What is a Literature Review

A literature review provides a critical account of the existing research and explains how this research is significant to the topic you are studying.  The review helps form the intellectual framework for the study.


  • Provides the reader with a summary of the most important scholarly literature in the field.
  • Provides information on the current state of research.
  • Explains contrasting perspectives and viewpoints and current controversies on the topic.
  • Identifies significant researchers in the field.
  • Identifies primary methodologies used in researching in this field.
  • Identifies areas of the field that require further research.
  • Explains how the research you are doing fits into the larger research picture.

 A Literature Review is NOT:

  • A summary of each article OR
  • A descriptive list of what has been written about the topic

The review need not be exhaustive; the objective is not to list as many relevant books, articles, reports as possible. However, the review should contain the most pertinent studies and point to important past and current research and practices in the field.

Print Resources

Online Resources

How is a Literature Review Helpful?

A literature review

  • provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
  • helps focus one’s own research topic.
  • identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
  • suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
  • identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
  • helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
  • suggests unexplored populations.
  • determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
  • tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

Literature Review

Guidelines to Writing a Literature Review

*Adapted from a research guide issued by Daryl G. Smith, Ph.D.


The APA Publication Manual (2001) explains that a literature review:

·         Defines and clarifies the topic or problem;

·         Summarizes previous investigations in order to inform the reader of the current state of research;

·         Identifies relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature; and suggests the next step or steps in addressing the topic or solving the problem.


What is the purpose of a literature review?


·         To enable an educated outsider to understand the current state of the field

·         To understand the work of scholars who came before us and where our own work fits into the conversation


Some components of a literature review

·         Sufficient background and introduction to the subject

·         Thesis statement

·         Organize, categorizes, summarizes, evaluates, and synthesizes findings

·         Does not take a position on a controversial issue

·         Defines key terminology and concepts

·         Identifies “key players” in the research field


Strategies for Researching and Writing a Literature Review


Preparing: Be a selective and critical reader. Do not be consumed by interesting detail. Keep notes on the following:

o   What is the author’s purpose, main argument, and methodology?

o   How does this reading connect to others?

o   What themes are illuminated in the field?

o   What do you think about the overall soundness or usefulness of the work?

o   How will your own work connect to the reading?



·         Consider the following categories

o   Basic assumptions or themes

o   Different arguments in the debate

o   Patterns in results or conclusions

·         Assess the significance of ideas

·         Outline and use subject headings and sub-headings


Other concerns while writing:

·         Quote sparingly, but it is okay to paraphrase or summarize (just give proper credit!)

·         Make effective use of transitions and use adjectives and adverbs to express your reviewer’s voice

·         Find examples/models

·         Focus your thesis on the state of the research. Do not write a position paper. Distinguish your authorial voice.