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

Writing A Literature Review

Writing A Literature Review


This is a brief introduction on how to write a literature review. If you need a refresher, or want to tips, use this guide to help you get started. 

If your professor has assigned a literature review, refer to the syllabus to ensure your review meets their requirements. This is simply a general guide designed to help you with the basics.

Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews


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 for Literature Reviews

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.



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:  re search –to search again. 

Important Parts of A Literature Review

What is the purpose of a Literature Review?  Why do people develop them?

  • to review scholarly literature—common scholarship in sciences and social sciences, empirical, theoretical, critical/analytic, methodological
  • to advance the discussion of previously published information written by recognized scholars and researchers
  • to demonstrate a familiarity with a body of knowledge
  • to establish professional credibility, your professional competence and abilities
  • to increase your breadth of knowledge 
  • to see what has/has not been investigated
  • to identify a researchable topic and avoid reinventing the wheel
  • to carry on where others stopped
  • to build on existing knowledge, learn from others
  • to provide intellectual context for your own work
  • to explore definitions and key concepts, words and phrases
  • to identify key personalities, scholars and researchers. (It broadens your research network.)
  • to identify seminal works, data sources, key information, views/opposing views relevant to your work
  • to evaluate and consolidate existing current research or state of the research
  • to create a guide to a specific topic
  • to provide an up-to-date summary of the field, keep current in your field with background information; comprehensive knowledge
  • to explain how the body of knowledge fits together and develop explanations for variations in a behavior or phenomenon, show the paths and linkages between scholars
  • to explain how your research question fits into the larger picture; to lay a foundation for designing your research; put your work into perspective
  • to explain why you are approaching your topic in a particular way
  • to establish, distinguishing connections between sources that need to be highlighted.  To identify relationships between concepts or ideas
  • to make a case for additional research, find questions that need to be answered
  • to identify gaps in current knowledge, highlight strengths and weaknesses of existing knowledge and ideas
  • to demonstrate competency in assessing prior work
  • to identify methodologies relevant to your work
  • to have an accurate, well documented record of resources on a scholarly theme
  • to integrate and pull information together

How is a Literature Review organized?  How do I do a Literature Review?

  • Chronologically (some research may limit you to a maximum of 2 years)
  • Thematically/discipline based
  • Topical
  • Inverted pyramid:  broad to narrow
  • Classical according to significance
  • By publication
  • By trend
  • By methodology
  • Abstract—a paragraph summary of your literature review
  • Includes Introduction, Body, Conclusion

Do not use materials from the Internet unless it is a professional, peer reviewed scientific journal.  Ask a librarian or your professor to be sure if items from the Internet are valid and meet scholarly criteria if you have questions or doubts.


 What do Librarians have to do with it? Librarians are available for assistance:              

  • one on one research consultation                                 
  • formulation of research question              
  • search strategy
  • identifying appropriate databases
  • advanced information seeking (beyond Zondervan)
  • help with citations (Zotero); interlibrary loan (ILLIAD)
  • other ideas regarding the literature review/research

Video How To Write A Literature Review

How to Write a Literature Reviews


This video produced by SJSU explains important research and organizational principles that will help you in thinking about your critical approaches papers.

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