Why Do We Write Literature Reviews?

Academic communities refer to what has been written on a topic as the literature on the topic. A literature review is a comprehensive evaluation of the important research that has been done on your topic.

Scholars write literature reviews because it gives them and other scholars the big picture of what is known about a particular topic. This helps scholars figure out what further research needs to be done. Are there holes are in the existing research? Are there new related topics that can be explored based upon what we already know from the existing research?

A literature review is NOT just a summary. Even though summarizing the existing research is an important part of a literature review, even more important is your discussion and analysis of the existing research findings.

In order for your literature review to be useful to other researchers, you must:

  • organize the information
  • connect the information to the hypothesis or research question you are developing
  • compare and contrast the existing research findings
  • identify controversies that appear in the literature
  • identify themes that appear in the literature

Check out these sites for more help understanding literature reviews:

Research Tips for Literature Reviews

Here are a few pointers:

  • Always look at the list of references at the end of an article. It tells you what other research on the same topic the author consulted in order to write his/her article. You can find those same articles and use them in your literature review!
  • If you find an article that is great for your topic, look for it in Google Scholar. Click on the Cited by ## link to see what research has been conducted since the original article that cites that article. This will lead you to more recent research that is likely to be relevant to your topic.
  • See if other literature reviews have been done on your topic! They will likely have long lists of references at the end that contain many articles relevant to your topic. (Hint: To find literature reviews, add "literature review" to your keyword search.)

Finding Literature Reviews

As you work on your literature review, you may want to look at other literature reviews for ideas on how to organize yours, or to see if they have found any interesting research that you might like to include in your review.

To search within PsycINFO for literature reviews, go to Advanced Search, find the Methodology menu, and select LITERATURE REVIEW.