A literature review is both a summary and explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a limited topic as found in academic books and journal articles. There are two kinds of literature reviews you might write at university: one that students are asked to write as a stand-alone assignment in a course, often as part of their training in the research processes in their ﬁeld, and the other that is written as part of an introduction to, or preparation for, a longer work, usually a thesis or research report. The focus and perspective of your review and the kind of hypothesis or thesis argument you make will be determined by what kind of review you are writing. One way to understand the differences between these two types is to read published literature reviews or the ﬁrst chapters of theses and dissertations in your own subject area. Analyze the structure of their arguments and note the way they address the issues
Purpose of the literature review
The purpose of the literature review is to provide a critical written account of the current state of research on a selected topic:
Identifies areas of prior scholarship
Places each source in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the specific issue, area of research, or theory under review.
Describes the relationship of each source to the others that you have selected
Identifies new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research
Points the way forward for further research.
Components of the literature review
The literature review should include the following:
The objective of the literature review
Overview of the subject under consideration.
Clear categorization of sources selected into those in support of your
Particular positions, those opposed, and those offering completely different arguments.
Discussion of both the distinctiveness of each source and its similarities with the others.
Steps in the literature review process
Preparation of a literature review may be divided into four steps:
Define your subject and the scope of the review.
Search the library catalog, subject-specific databases, and other search tools to find sources that are relevant to your topic.
Read and evaluate the sources and to determine their suitability to the understanding of the topic at hand
Analyze, interpret and discuss the findings and conclusions of the sources you selected.
In assessing each source, consideration should be given to:
What is the author’s expertise in this particular field of study (credentials)?
Are the author’s arguments supported by empirical evidence (e.g. quantitative/qualitative studies)?
Is the author’s perspective too biassed in one direction or are opposing studies and viewpoints also considered?
Does the selected source contribute to a more profound understanding of the subject?
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Examples of a published literature review
Literature reviews are often published as scholarly articles, books, and reports. Here is an example of a recent literature review published as a scholarly journal article:
Ledesma, M. C., & Calderón, D. (2015). Critical race theory in education: A review of past literature and a look to the future. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 206-222. Link to the article