Q. I need to write a literature review. Help!


Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to offer an overview of existing literature on a specific topic along with an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s arguments. You are summarizing what is available on a certain topic and then drawing conclusions about the topic. To make gathering your research easier, be sure to start with a narrow/specific topic and then widen your topic if necessary.

A literature review is helpful when determining what research has been gathered and what further research still needs to be done. What holes still exist? What is missing from my collection of resources? Do I need to gather more resources?

It is important to note that the literature you gather may contradict each other. For example, one of your articles could be pro-childhood vaccinations and another article could be anti-childhood vaccinations.

Four Stages of a Literature Review

  1. Problem formulation – What topic are you going to investigate further?  What are the main issues on which you will focus?
  2. Literature search – Find sources relevant to your chosen topic
  3. Data evaluation – Along with the timeliness of the resource (in medical/scientific research, you want to use material from the last five years), consider the following when evaluating your resources:
    1. Provenance – Is the author credible?  What are his or her credentials?  Did the author use evidence to support his or her findings?  What type of evidence did the author use?
    2. Methodology – Were the techniques used in the study appropriate to addressing the research question or problem posed?  Was the sample size appropriate?  Were the results reported effectively reported and interpreted?
    3. Objectivity – Does the author present an unbiased view or is there prejudice?  Does the author ignore contrary data or incorporate it?
    4. Persuasiveness – Was the author convincing in his or her points?
    5. Value – Does the work contribute to the field as a whole?
  4. Analysis and interpretation – Summarize and discuss the findings of your research

Matrix for a Literature Review

It may help for you to use a matrix to organize your findings about each resource.

Literature Review STUDY SUMMARIES






Variables/ instruments


Controversies, disagreements with other authors


Implications for practice, research, theory






















Components of a Literature Review

  • Overview of the topic presented - be sure to include the purpose of the literature review
    • Current situation
    • History
  • Divide resources into common categories or themes – be sure to include your selection methods for each source
  • Comparison and contrast of each work
  • Your conclusions – what are the best sources and why? 
    • Identify opportunities for further research

Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

  • Chronologically
  • By author
  • Different theoretical approaches
  • Specific concepts or issues
  • Different methodologies
  • Level of support to your hypothesis/theory/topic of review

Writing the Literature Review

  • Keep your audience in mind – be sure to write to the level of your reader
  • Use subheadings to clarify your structure – it will make your review more manageable to read and “chunks” the information
  • Use evidence
  • Be selective – pick the most important points from each source
  • Paraphrasing is preferred to using many direct quotes – this allows you to use your own voice and show your understanding of the research
  • Do not cite references you have not read

Sample Literature Reviews


Boston College. (2016, January 7). Writing a literature review: Phase 5: Organizing the review. Retrieved from


Boston College. (2016, January 7). Writing a literature review: Phase 6: Writing the literature review. Retrieved from


Rasmussen College. (2015, June 30). Literature review vs. annotated bibliography vs. research paper... What's the

     difference? Retrieved from http://rasmussen.libanswers.com/faq/43033

University of California Santa Cruz. (n.d.). Write a literature review. Retrieved from http://guides.library.ucsc.edu/write-


University of Southern California. (2016, January 7). Organizing your social sciences research paper: 5. The literature

     review. Retrieved from http://libguides.usc.edu/c.php?g=235034&p=1559822

Virginia Commonwealth University. (n.d.). Write a literature review. Retrieved from http://guides.library.vcu.edu



  • Last Updated Oct 11, 2018
  • Views 4312
  • Answered By Kristie Keuntjes, Learning Services Coordinator

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