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Writing a Literature Review

Includes definitions, approaches to literature reviews, finding sources, organizing the literature review, and practical tips.

Determine the scope of your review

The length of the review depends on your objective. 

  • Are you writing a research paper as the final project in a specific course?
  • Are you writing a senior or honor's capstone project or thesis? 
  • Are you writing for an undergraduate or graduate course? 
  • Are you writing a master's thesis? 
  • Are you writing a dissertation?

The majority of these projects will require a selective examination of the literature.  Discuss the length of your review with your instructor or paper advisor.

A review of what?

  • You must have a precise question to study. For example, your question cannot be too broad, nor too narrow. 
  • You must understand the limitations of your research. Limiting by time, geographic area, gender, age, and/or nationality are all good ways to develop a more focused topic.
  • Understand the scope of your review by having concrete answers to these questions:
    • what will you cover?
    • will your coverage be selective or exhaustive?
    • are you focusing on a specific theory or methodology; a specific type of research?
    • will you include information published in other languages?
    • will you include information from related disciplines?

Planning your Literature Review

It will take time to locate and review the literature relevant to your research question.  Starting early will allow you sufficient time to gather and review your sources.  The process of writing a literature review normally includes the following elements:

1. Defining your research question

2. Planning the approach to your review and research

3. Searching the literature

4. Analyzing the material you find

5. Organizing the review

6. Writing the review