De-Mystifying the Literature Review

| January 29, 2014

A review of the literature is an important first step in the process of writing a thesis or dissertation, or any paper for publication.  It asks that you read and critique articles, books, and other sources that have already been written on your topic or related topics.  In the process, you are required to find sources and evaluate the best way to focus your research so that you can contribute to a body of scholarly literature.

Guides for Conducting a Review of the Literature

There are a number of guides on university and academic library websites describing and detailing procedures for critically reviewing the research literature in a given subject field. This is a selected list of online resources on the theory and practice of conducting a literature review:

There are also a number of print resources, unfortunately not available online at present, that you may want to consult; these include:

Sources for Finding Examples of Literature Reviews

Annual Reviews – Reviews of topics in biomedical, physical, and social sciences published as annual journals; see series for Clinical Psychology, Medicine, Psychology, and others.

Review of Educational Research – A publication of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the RER publishes quarterly critical, integrative reviews of research literature bearing on education, including conceptualizations, interpretations, and syntheses of scholarly work.

Review of Research in Education – A publication of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the RRE provides an annual overview and descriptive analysis of selected topics of relevant research literature through critical and synthesizing essays.

Digital Dissertations (ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text) – The world’s most comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses, the official digital dissertations archive for the Library of Congress, and the database of record for graduate research. Includes millions of searchable citations to dissertation and theses from around the world from 1861 to the present day, together with over a million full text dissertations that are available for download in PDF format. The database offers full text for most of the dissertations added since 1997 and strong retrospective full text coverage for older graduate works.

Searching Databases for Literature Reviews

ERIC – Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education to provide extensive access to educational-related periodical literature, ERIC (which stands for Educational Resources Information Center) provides coverage of conferences, meetings, government documents, theses, dissertations, reports, audiovisual media, bibliographies, directories, books, and monographs. In addition to this version, made available via the ProQuest platform, ERIC is also accessible via the U.S. government ERIC site and through Ebsco ERIC.

  • To restrict an ERIC search to literature reviews, select the Document Type “070, Information Analyses,” or use the term “literature reviews” as an ERIC subject term/descriptor

PsycINFO – Covers the scholarly literature in the psychological, social, behavioral, and health sciences.

  • To restrict a PsycINFO search to literature reviews, select the Methodology “0800, Literature Review” (from Additional Limits options)

Organization/Presentation

Writing the Literature Review, Part II (David Taylor, University of Maryland University College)

Literature Reviews:  An Overview for Graduate Students (North Carolina State University)

Types of APA Papers:  Literature Review (Purdue University Online Writing Lab [OWL])

Write a Literature Review (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Citation Management Software (Columbia University)