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Literature Reviews

This guide provides detailed information about conducting a literature review.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a systematic review of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature review is designed to analyze—not just summarize—scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. In other words, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.

This guide is designed to be a general resource for those completing a literature review in their field. 

Types of Literature Reviews

The article A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies by Grant and Booth is often considered the seminal article in defining review types. The chart below is taken from that article.

Video Overview

This video created by the North Carolina State University Libraries provides a detailed overview of literature reviews and the process of conducting a literature review. It also includes examples of literature reviews.

Why is a Literature Review Important?

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.
  • Indicates potential directions for future research.

Maps and Directions