Literature Review

Your literature review of about 1200 words (~4 pages double-spaced) should include an explanation of your research question and a discussion of significant primary and secondary sources (5-10 sources) organized into relevant categories. Assess the sources in each category as a group, including the contribution each group of sources makes to your research question, its relationship with other categories, and the key strength and/or weakness of each category. A reference list should follow.


  • to you
    • gain familiarity with work on your topic.
    • enhances your ability to put your perspective into context and enter into the academic discussion.
    • feeds directly into a section of your final document.
    • gain practice finding, reviewing and summarizing the research of others.
  • to readers of your review
    • sheds light on the topic you review
  • to readers of your final work
    • allows you to encapsulate for them the research that you will “extend, modify, or correct” (Turabian 2007, 103-104)


  1. Determine the topic of your literature review
    • What is a central topic for your project?
    • Make your topic narrow so that you can really survey major sources on it.
  2. Research
    • The research for your literature review is a piece of the research for your project
    • Start research for your project by compiling as comprehensive a bibliography of sources as possible
    • Determine key words and terms (use a variety)
    • Search in a variety of locations: Library catalog, JSTOR, Google scholar, Google books, references that show up repeatedly in journal articles, books and literature reviews, etc.
    • Ask an expert in that area for a recommendation of an important source
    • Other
  3. Identify sources that appear to be most important to use in the literature review
    • “To keep your references to the fewest necessary, select, as appropriate, the first, the most important, the most elegant, and the most recent. Cite review articles where possible.” (Zeiger, 2000)
    o How? Initially scan introductions, conclusions, references and bibliographies, and publication dates to get a sense of the source and its place in the conversation. Then select a handful of landmark studies by considering studies that have been very influential or groundbreaking.
    o Try to identify one or two very recent works in your topic. How do they relate to the other sources? Do they develop previous work, challenge it, or try to address new questions?
    • This process overlaps with steps 4 and 5
  4. Take notes
    • In addition to using the source for information, make note of thesis, date, author, method, and sources
  5. Determine how key sources relate to each other
    • How are you going to categorize?
    • Time period? Method? Theme? Sources used?
    • What angle is most clarifying? Do patterns emerge when you consider the elements above (thesis, date, author, method, and sources)? In there a trend or debate in the field?
  6. Write your literature review, including
    I.) Introduction
    A brief introduction to your topic
    Thesis statement with stated hypothesis
    II.) Argument
    Organize your argument around the categories you determined and discuss those categories.
    Use your sources as evidence:
    Present author, title, and publication date when first introducing a source.
    Be conscious of chronology of sources and of relationships between sources (similarities and differences).
    Don’t forget to reference these sources when you discuss them.
    III.) Conclusion
    Revisit thesis.
    Consider what the literature has done and what has not yet been done.
    IV.) Reference section


Turabian, Kate L. 2007. A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations. 7th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Zeiger, Mimi. 2000. Essentials of writing biomedical research papers, 2nd ed. San Francisco: McGraw-Hill Health Professions Division.

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