Capstone Literature Review

A literature review is a critical summary of published scholarly research on a particular topic. Completing a literature review helps you become familiar with current thinking on a topic; by demonstrating this familiarity, you enable readers to understand the topic being investigated. [MO 3.2, MO 3.3]


In preparation for writing your literature review, please give careful attention to the way in which you will organize your sources. Your literature review must contain at least 10 credible sources with appropriate citations in APA or MLA format (depending on your discipline). As you organize and synthesize your information, use citations and references appropriately. In all cases, remain true to the context of your sources, taking care not to misrepresent or quote out of context. This assignment must contain the following sections.

Introduction (Connection to Discipline and Explanation of the Issues)

Explain the issues and make a connection to your discipline. Introduce the topic with reference to your thesis or main question in the opening paragraph.

  • Describe the issue or problem clearly and with enough relevant information that your reader will fully understand it. Make connections between your topic and important theories/facts/examples from your discipline or area of study (e.g., psychology, history). The purpose of the literature review is not to answer your questions but to situate your topic within the wider literature on the subject matter.

Source Finding Analysis (Accessing Information and Evaluating Sources)

  • What databases did you use to find potential sources and why? (Reminder: Google and other search engines are not databases. Use the New Jersey State Library database resources.) What key word searches did you use, and which were most effective? What database or key word did you exclude from your search, and why? How did you make sure that your information sources were highly relevant?
  • Explain how you evaluated and selected sources to use for this project. How do you know your selected sources are appropriate to your research question? How do you know you have chosen a variety of sources that are appropriate for the scope of your project?
  • How did you make sure that you were fully complying with all ethical and legal restrictions on the use of published, confidential, and/or proprietary information?

Themes (Use Information Effectively to Accomplish a Specific Purpose)

  • Synthesize the information from your sources in order to help your reader fully understand your topic’s background and relevant issues. What main themes emerge in the literature on this topic? What do different sources have to say about these themes? What patterns, differences, or similarities emerge from the sources? What significant scholarly disagreements have you noticed? Provide your reader with a sufficient breadth of the topic under your themes or means of organizing your sources so that the reader can be aware of and acquainted with the topic’s background and relevant issues. Be sure to situate the topic within a larger context and draw out themes and key ideas.

Curiosity (Sources and Evidence)

  • What information have you found that illustrates both your interest and rich awareness of your topic? Why is this information so interesting? What ideas are you developing that are appropriate for your discipline?

Conclusion (Summary)

Finally, after you have completed the body of your review, provide a paragraph summary. What have you learned thus far?

Keep in mind, the literature review is not an extended annotated bibliography whereby you list each source you have read and provide a brief synopsis of it. Rather, the literature review is a running narrative that develops the background and context for your topic. Finally, additional research should continue to be done throughout the course until the final submission of the capstone project (which must include at least 15 sources in the final bibliography).

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