What is a Literature Review?
A literature review is a description and overview of the scholarly materials that have been produced on a particular topic or subject. It is a critical analysis of existing research on a topic, not just a summary of it. Materials you might review may include books, scholarly articles and grey literature (reports, theses and dissertations, conference proceedings etc.) and scholarly materials that are available on the Internet. It is essential that the literature review use the topic of your paper as a framework – that is, you must be able to relate the reviewed materials to your topic.
The literature review is a crucial part of scholarly research for a number of reasons:
- It can help to inform your knowledge of the subject area by identifying what has been written on the topic, the methodological approaches that have been used and the perspectives that other scholars have taken.
- Familiarizing yourself with existing research can help to place your research topic in context, discover gaps in the literature, and help you to better define your topic.
- In a formal study, a literature review provides background information on the topic, and helps readers to understand the current state of knowledge in a field.
- The literature review can identify controversial issues related to the topic, and areas where further research is required.
A literature review may begin with an annotated bibliography, and then expand into a more thorough examination of the literature as it relates directly to your topic. An annotated bibliography is comprised of a citation for a source, followed by a paragraph which describes and analyses the source.