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Designed for psychology students, this guide takes you through the Library’s resources to improve your research.
Literature Reviews

"Literature reviews survey research on a particular area or topic in [a field of study]. Their main purpose is to knit together theories and results from multiple studies to give an overview of a field of research."

Published literature reviews are called review articles, however, research articles contain brief literature reviews at the beginning to give context to the study within that article. A literature review's purpose is two-fold: to describe and compare studies in an area of research and to evaluate those studies. You will need both in a well-done literature review understanding that the ability to understand and compare the current research is necessary before you can evaluate it.


The Importance of Note taking and Organization

At the heart of any thorough literature review lies the engagement with diverse source materials. Beyond simply absorbing the content, meticulous and organized note-taking emerges as a critical skill, enabling the synthesis of key insights, the formulation of probing questions, the evaluation of each source's merit, and the ability to create correct citations to avoid plagiarism. Executed effectively, this note-taking practice becomes the cornerstone of a streamlined and efficient research process.

By mastering this note-taking technique, you can significantly streamline the research process, fostering a clear and well-organized framework for your literature review.

The Literature Review matrix is a great resource. You can download the PDF or use the Excel spreadsheet to capture all of the necessary information and organize your notes (and thinking).

[Literature Review Matrix created by: McLean, Lindsey. "Literature Review." CORA (Community of Online Research Assignments), 2015.]


Literature: a collection of materials on your topic.  (does not mean “literature” in the sense of “language and literature” (To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, etc.)  —means understanding the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary literature  Primary—peer reviewed, scholarly, original, review articles—secondary

Review: to look again at what has been written. (does not mean giving your personal opinion or whether or not you liked the sources.) 

Research: to search again. 

Literature Review Topic & Main Points

The narrower the topic the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read.

 A Literature Review is a select list of available resources covering the topic in question accompanied by a short description AND a critical comparative evaluation/analysis of the works included 

  • an integral part of the scientific process
  • reveals whether or not a research question has been answered by someone else

Major points to consider

  • Thematic -- defined by a guiding question or concept
  • Descriptive
  • Directly relevant
  • Highly selective, narrowly focused
  • May include all scholarly formats including government documents; book reviews; films; selected websites; scholarly open source journals
  • Usually includes a thesis statement/narrowly focused research question, summary and/or synthesis of the ideas encountered. (synthesis=reorganization of information of what is known, what is yet to be discovered  

Questions to ask
  • What has/has not been investigated?
  • Who are the contributors to the conversation and what are they saying?
  • How is the lit review organized?
  • Does it trace a history or progression of thought?
  • Does it include variety of interpretations, debates, areas of controversy?
  • Does it inform the reader of the most important, relevant resources?     
  • Does it formulate additional questions that need more investigation?
  • Does it include strengths and weaknesses?’
  • Does it document the research?

*Expect that your work will be traced by readers.