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MATH 317 Statistics and Research Methods Laboratory

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a compilation of the works published in a particular field of study or line of research, usually over a specific period of time, in the form of an in-depth, critical bibliographic essay or annotated list in which attention is drawn to the most significant works.

  • Summarizes and analyzes previous research relevant to a topic
  • Includes scholarly books and articles published in academic journals
  • Can be an specific scholarly paper or a section in a research paper

The objective of a Literature Review is to find previous published scholarly works relevant to an specific topic

  • Help gather ideas or information
  • Keep up to date in current trends and findings
  • Help develop new questions

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
  • Helps focus your own research questions or problems
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas
  • Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic
  • Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias
  • Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches


Source: "What is a Literature Review?", Old Dominion University,

Conducting a Literature Review

1. Choose a topic. Define your research question. 

Your literature review should be guided by a central research question. It represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted, and analyzed by you in a synthesized way. 

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.
  • Write down terms that are related to your question for they will be useful for searches later. 

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? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.
  • Consider these things when planning your time for research. 

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

4. Conduct your searches and find the literature. 

  • Review the abstracts carefully - this will save you time!
  • Many databases will have a search history tab for you to return to for later.
  • Use bibliographies and references of research studies to locate others.
  • Use citation management software such as Zotero to keep track of your research citations. 

5. Review the literature. 

Some questions to help you analyze the research: 

  • What was the research question you are reviewing? What are the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings? 
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze the literature review, samples and variables used, results, and conclusions. Does the research seem complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise? 
  • If there are conflicted studies, why do you think that is? 
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Are they experts or novices? Has the study been cited? 


Source: "Literature Review", University of West Florida,

Writing a Literature Review

The most common way that literature reviews are organized is by theme or author. Find a general pattern of structure for the review. When organizing the review, consider the following: 

  • the methodology 
  • the quality of the findings or conclusions
  • major strengths and weaknesses
  • any other important information

Writing Tips: 

  • Use evidence.
  • Be selective - Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. It should directly relate to the review's focus.
  • Use quotes sparingly.
  • Summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the review.
  • Keep your own voice - Your voice (the writer's) should remain front and center.
  • Use caution when paraphrasing - Be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words.  


Source: "Composing your Literature Review", Florida A&M University,