Writing a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. Often part of the introduction to a larger piece of writing, such as a research report or thesis, the literature review expresses and evaluates the qualities of the information that has already been established about a topic.

How do I do this?

As a piece of scholarly writing, a good literature review is characterized by 1) good organization (divide your discussion into sections that present themes or trends on the topic); 2) clear focus (all literature should clearly and directly relate to your thesis or research question); 3) a combination of what is and is not known about the topic (not merely a summary or list of sources); 4) the identification of areas of controversy in the literature; and 5) the formulation of questions that need further research.

Possible questions to ask about each book or article you include in your literature review:

  1. Has the author formulated a problem/issue?
  2. Is it clearly defined? Is its significance (scope, severity, relevance) clearly established?
  3. Could the problem have been approached more effectively from another perspective?
  4. What is the author's research orientation (e.g., interpretive, scientific, combination)?
  5. What is the author's theoretical framework (e.g., psychological, developmental, feminist)?
  6. What is the relationship between the theoretical and research perspectives?
  7. Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the problem/issue? Does the author include literature taking positions she or he does not agree with?
  8. In a research study, how good are the basic components of the study design (e.g., population, intervention, outcome)? How accurate and valid are the measurements? Is the analysis of the data accurate and relevant to the research question? Are the conclusions valid based upon the data and analysis?
  9. In material written for a popular demographic, does the author use appeals to emotion, one-sided examples, or rhetorically-charged language and tone? Is there an objective basis to the reasoning, or is the author merely "proving" what he or she already believes?
  10. How does the author structure the argument? Can you "deconstruct" the flow of the argument to see whether or where it breaks down logically (e.g., in establishing cause-effect relationships)?
  11. In what ways does this book or article contribute to our understanding of the problem under study, and in what ways is it useful for practice? What are the strengths and limitations?
  12. How does this book or article relate to the specific thesis or question I am developing?
Adapted by Katherine Harrison from the following source(s): Univ. of Toronto http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/literature-review

To print a copy of this handout, please click here.