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A literature review is a “critical analysis of a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles” (University of Wisconsin Writing Center).
Do not confuse a literature review with an annotated bibliography.
Questions to Ask
- How are sources similar in terms of methodologies, philosophies, claims, choice and interpretation of evidence, reliability, etc.?
- Do you observe gaps in the research or areas that require further study?
- Do particular issues or problems stand out?
- Do you want to compare texts in general or hone in on a specific issue or question?
- Determine your purpose.Understanding the purpose and expectations of the prompt will help you place appropriate emphasis on analysis or summary.
- Keep track of sources by writing a brief summary for each.
- Consider making a table or chart to map how different sources relate to/contrast with one another.
- Consider the significance of each work to the field. The amount of space you dedicate to an individual source denotes its significance within the body of literature.
Literature Review information courtesy of Duke University Libraries
- The introduction should explain why you are writing the review (“so what/who cares?”) and make some central claims about the current state of the literature (e.g. trends, debates, gaps, etc.).
- Organize the body of the paper by common denominators among sources, such as methodologies, conclusions, philosophical approaches, or possibly chronology (assuming topical subsections)
- The conclusion should summarize significant contributions to the field, situate the reviewed literature in the larger context of the discipline, point out flaws or gaps in the research, and/or suggest future areas of study.
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