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Literature Review: What is a Literature Review?


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The LITERATURE REVIEW is a summary of previous research on a topic.  The literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, and other sources relevant to a particular area of research or interest.  Within the review the author provides a description, summary and critical evaluation of each source, i.e. the strengths and weaknesses. The literature review may also identify gaps or controversies in the literature and topics needing further research.

The format of the literature review may vary from discipline to discipline, and from assignment to assignment, but the purpose is standard:  critical analysis of a body of knowledge through summation and comparison.

The literature review

  • provides the historical background for your research;
  • describes issues, debates, theories, concepts and related research in the field; and
  • shows how your research will extend these or address a gap.


How does a literature review differ from a research paper?

When you write a research paper, you select sources which support your own argument. In a research paper, the argument is the main focus.

When you write a literature review, you summarize the arguments and ideas of others. In a literature review, the sources are the main focus. You do not have to prove that you have read everything. Cite only the most important and the most relevant sources. The literature review should detail what was not addressed in previous studies and should answer the question of why you are undertaking your study .

Subject Guide

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Tom Kmetz
Room 308
Camden-Carroll Library
Morehead State University
(606) 783-5111

Thank you

Thanks go to David Winchester for letting us copy a significant portion of this libguide from his "What is a Literature Review?" guide.