What is a Literature Review?

The APA definition of a literature review (from http://www.apa.org/databases/training/method-values.html):

 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.