STAT 3604: Literatures reviews

Lit review resources

What is a literature review?

A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period

A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.

Your literature review should also highlight gaps that your research intends to fill.

(Courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center)

General steps in a lit review

A literature review is often systematic, on some level.  Keep in mind that reserach is iterative, meaning that it is not at all linear!  However, following the steps below can help you get started on your review:

1. Frame your question  What are you trying to research?  Your research question may change over the course of your research, and this is perfectly normal. 

2. Develop keywords that describe your research.  Most databases use Boolean logic, which necessitates your use of appropriate keywords to search for articles.  See this guide for more information on developing effective searches.  

3. Begin searching for all relevant books, articles, and even websites that might contain information on your research question.  As part of this step, you'll want to identify key databases for searching.  See the "searching databases" tab in this guide for my recommendations. 

3. Document your searches so that you know what you searched, where and when you searched, and the results of those searches.  This will keep you from repeating work.  

4. Manage your citations with some sort of organization method.  Using a citation manager like EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley could help.

5. Read, evaluate, and annotate the information that you're finding.  Keeping a critical summary of your resources will help you begin to think about how you want to organize your literature review.  See this guide for more information on critically evaluating the resources that you find.  

6. Thematic organization of your paper.  Find common themes in the resoruces that you're reading, and organize them into categories.  Define your categories, and perhaps describe how they relate to one another.

7. Start writing your full paper.  The notes, annotations, and evaluations that you've kept should help you know when to plug in and cite the resources that you've found.