Conducting Literature Reviews

The APA definition of a literature review (from

 Survey of previously published literature on a particular topic to define and clarify a particular problem; summarize previous investigations; and to identify relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature, and suggest the next step in solving the problem.

 Literature Reviews should:

  • Provide an overview of the topic including
    • Key concepts that are being researched
    • The areas that are ripe for more research—where the gaps and inconsistencies in the literature are
    • A critical analysis of research that has been previously conducted
    • Will include primary and secondary research
  • Writing the Literature Review:
    • Be selective—you’ll review many sources, so pick the most important parts of the articles/books.
  • Organizing your Literature Review:
    • Although this structure will not necessarily work for all literature reviews, most literature reviews have the following components:
      • Introduction: Provides an overview of your topic, including the major problems and issues that have been studied.
      • Discussion of Methodologies:  If there are different types of studies conducted, identifying what types of studies have been conducted is often provided.
      • Identification and Discussion of Studies: Provide overview of major studies conducted, and if there have been follow-up studies, identify whether this has supported or disproved results from prior studies.
      • Identification of Themes in Literature: If there has been different themes in the literature, these are also discussed in literature reviews.  For example, if you were writing a review of treatment of OCD, cognitive-behavioral therapy and drug therapy would be themes to discuss.
      • Conclusion/Discussion—Summarize what you’ve found in your review of literature, and identify areas in need of further research or gaps in the literature.

More Help on Conducting Literature Reviews

Adelphi Library's tutorial, Conducting a Literature Review in Education and the Behavioral Sciences covers how to gather sources from library databases for your literature review.


The University of Toronto also provides "A Few Tips on Conducting a Literature Review" that offers some good advice and questions to ask when conducting a literature review.

Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) has several resources that discuss literature reviews:  (for grad students, but is still offers some good tips and advice for anyone writing a literature review)