Literature Review

Many research projects in the sciences, social sciences, education, and in humanities include a literature (research scholarship or major written works) review of a narrow topic. Honors papers, thesis, dissertations, grant proposals, and evidence base practice are works that often include a literature review. Literature reviews may be the entire project or part of a larger research project. Reviews may include books, e-books, journal articles, theses, government publications, conference papers, reports, and more.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review provides an overview, background, or theoretical basis for the written works. It summarizes, synthesizes, and evaluates previous contributions in the specific field of study. It surveys scholarly literature on a narrow topic to help determine why the topic is important. The survey may include major research findings, gaps, strengths or weaknesses in the literature, analysis, creation of relationships, and questions for further research. Creating a literature review helps in identifying the research problem or question.

Getting Started

  • Begin by reviewing the requirements your faculty member has outlined and learn their expectations for the work. Work with your faculty members to identify a topic of interest and narrow that topic.  This will help determine the types of resources you need and how you might be assessing, summarizing, synthesizing, and/or critiquing the resources you locate.
  • Read sample papers of other students who have written previous papers for your department.
  • You may also wish to consult with a subject librarian (liaison.)


Use the library databases, library subject guides (MaxGuides), Google scholar, and other resources to identify appropriate resources for your research. You may wish to narrow the research to specific years, populations, geographic areas, etc. depending upon the research focus.

Collect, analyze, organize/arrange, make connections/relationships, and summarize the literature.


A literature review is an overview of the existing materials on a given topic.  It is often arranged by subtopics and includes an introduction, body, conclusion and/or recommendations. Various methods of organizing a literature review include chronological, by publication, by trends or themes, or by methodology. They may be narratives, systematic reviews, meta-analysis, or taken directly from the study.