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Literature Reviews

Types of Literature Reviews

Different projects involve different kinds of literature reviews with different kinds and amounts of work. And, of course, the "end products" vary.

  • Student paper
  • Honors paper
  • Capstone project
  • Senior thesis
  • Masters thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • Research article
  • Grant proposal
  • Evidence based practice

To find literature review articlessee the Finding Examples box below.

What is a Literature Review ?

General Considerations

  • A literature review is usually a process that gathers information on a topic from numerous information sources related to that topic.  
  • Often that process results in a written product about that topic.
  • Know your "end product". Literature reviews can introduce (or be sections of) larger projects. Literature reviews can also be stand-alone end products. 
  • Find examples of what you will end up with. See examples at the left and in the Finding Examples box below.
  • Document your process, results, ideas, the changes you make, and what your reasons are for your process, steps, changes, etc.  More about this under "Managing the Review".
  • The steps below look sequential. However, it is often an iterative process.  That is, you may “circle back to redo or modify earlier steps”. You may also be working on a number of “steps” at the same time. 

Steps - Developing and completing the Literature Review

  • State your research topic (or question); or, make a first attempt to get the process going. 
  • You should know or clarify what the review is for.  For example, is it for “background”, or a “pro and con discussion”, "integration", “summarizing”, etc.  You may have several purposes.
  • Develop a starting 'search plan for your review'. What strategies are you going to use to find information?
  • Do your search and choose sources that seem to have information on your topic.
  • Choose the exact information you want to use, to discuss, or to develop in your review. 
  • Write drafts of 'the paper'. You work with the information you selected to develop the 'review' (e.g., summarize, synthesize, etc.).  And you cite the sources used.
  • Your finished document can be an introduction, paper, chapter, article, etc. 

Finding Examples

Find and use models for the product you want to end up with.


  1. Example: PubMed (MEDLINE): Do a topical search. Then filter your results to Review and/or Systematic Reviews using the choices on the left side of the screen.
    Example: PsycINFO: Type search terms, then choose Literature review, Systematic review, or Meta-analysis from the Methodology box on the page. Then run search.
  2. Explore resources that specialize in systematic reviews (a special kind of rigorous literature review).
    Journal: Systematic Reviews
    Organizations: Cochrane Collaboration, Campbell Collaboration, EPPI-Center, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination
  3. Explore reviews in the annual publication Annual Reviews

** Contact a librarian for ideas on names of journals in your subject area that have review articles.

Sample Planning Questions

In planning your review, in addition to finding and analyzing the reviews in dissertations in your field, you might ask yourself questions from other guides such as the following:

  1. What is my central question or issue that the literature can help define?

  2. What is already known about the topic?

  3. Is the scope of the literature being reviewed wide or narrow enough?

  4. Is there a conflict or debate in the literature?

  5. What connections can be made between the texts being reviewed?

  6. What sort of literature should be reviewed? Historical? Theoretical? Methodological? Quantitative? Qualitative?

  7. What criteria should be used to evaluate the literature being reviewed?

  8. How will reviewing the literature justify the topic I plan to investigate?


From: Writing the successful thesis and dissertation: entering the conversation,
by Irene L. Clark