What is the purpose of a literature review?
In writing the literature review, your purpose is:
What is a literature review?

Here are some definitions of what a literature review could entail:

Usually, literature reviews are defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries. In many academic research papers, the literature is one section of the paper where literature relevant to the argument is summarized and synthesized.

Here are some examples of other overviews of the literature that are NOT literature reviews:
  • Annotated Bibliographies: These are lists of citations, grouped alphabetically or by theme that include a short, typically 2-3 sentence descriptive and evaluative summary of each work. The aim of an annotated bibliography is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of a cited source.
  • Literary Reviews: A literary review is a critical analysis of a literary work, such as a novel, play, or book of poems
  • Book Reviews: Similar to a literary review, a book review is a brief critical discussion of a book. For scholarly works, books are reviewed by other scholars in the field.
Starting and organizing a literature review

Similar to primary research, development of the literature review requires four stages:

Searching the literature
Depending on the subject area or discipline of your topic, your approach to searching the literature will vary. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Broad Issues/Background
You may want to consult a subject-specific reference work in order to determine a set definition or identify key elements or referenced scholars involved in your topic. 
  • In Print: Using the Advanced Search in OBIS, Limit Search by Location: Main Library Reference.
  • Online: Consult Gale Virtual Reference or Oxford Reference. Both of these platforms search across topic or subject-specific referene materials. Pay attention to the work in which your topic entry appears, as it will give you a good sense of any interdisciplinary or related subjects to consider for your review

Annual Reviews
Critically reviews the most significant research literature in over 40 focused disciplines within the fields of biomedical, life, physical, and social sciences. These reviews both summarize recent scholarly advances and prompt new research activity. Excellent database of in-depth, secondary sources.

Oxford Bibliographies - Political Science
Authoritative guide to reliable peer-reviewed resources and scholarship from many disciplines and topics. Bibliographies are selectively curated and annotated by expert academics and offer high-level overviews that provide non-experts with a point of entry into unfamiliar areas of study.

ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I
Citations and abstracts for dissertations and theses on all subjects from around the world. Previews and full text available for some titles.

Theme/s of Your Research & Direct Relevance
Now that you've found broad overviews & background information on your topic, follow the citations. Mine the bibliographies of reference sources, dissertations & theses, and reviews done by other scholars to locate sources that are specific to the themes of your research.

Look up book citations in OBIS or journal titles in Journal Finder to locate the sources that you find in bibliographies. At this point, once you've determined the subject disciplines relevant to the themes of your research, search our Databases by subject lists to further narrow your focus.

Scholarly journal archive for the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences;  most journals 2-5 years out-of-date

Web of Science
Scholarly literature in the sciences, health and medicine, social sciences, arts, and humanities and proceedings of international conferences, symposia, seminars, colloquia, workshops, and conventions.  Includes cited reference searching across many databases. Search all databases in Web of Science (includes Medline and BIOSIS, direct link for on-campus users). Dates of coverage: 1965 to present.  

Worldwide Political Science Abstracts
Articles, book chapters, dissertations, working papers, and conference proceedings in all fields of political science, including international relations, international law, and public administration and policy.   Dates of Coverage: 1975--

Explore other POLITICS resources

When you find a relevant article, pay attention to the associated Subject Headings in order to come up with new search terms and start making a list of Journal Titles that are thematically coherent with you topic. Skim the table of contents of these journals for more articles that speak directly to your topic and to identify gaps in your research.

Critical questions for evaluating sources
As you think through the value and significance of the sources you've gathered, evaluate them in light of these broad categories: context, credibility, point of view, depth, relevance & impact. Here are some critical questions to ask:
Why do a literature review?
  • To see what has and has not been investigated.
  • To identify data sources that other researchers have used.
  • To learn how others have defined and measured key concepts.
  • To develop alternative research projects.
  • To put your work in perspective.
  • To contribute to the field by moving research forward. Reviewing the literature lets you see what came before, and what did and didn't work for other researchers.
  • To demonstrate your understanding, and your ability to critically evaluate research in the field.
  • To provide evidence that may be used to support your own findings.
Research help
Sources consulted/Bibliography
Sample APA Papers: Literature Review
The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It
Literature Review Handout
Starting a Literature Review
The Structure of a Literature Review
Write a Literature Review
Learn How to Write a Review of the Literature
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