Literature Review

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					                       What is a Literature Review?
        A LITERATURE review is a guide to the published information on a topic. While
a literature review summarizes each author’s ideas and contributions, it is not just an
alphabetical or numbered list. Sources are usually grouped into subtopics or ideas
important to the topic. For example, a review of the literature on crop circles might be
divided into specific geographic areas or it might represent the skeptic’s viewpoint as
well as the believer’s.
        Literature reviews are very valuable to researchers who need an overview of
what’s been written about a topic, but they do not count as scholarly journal articles
when you are collecting sources for a term paper.

Writing a Literature Review: Choosing a Topic
        If you have to write a literature review, you need to take care that the topic you
choose is not too broad or too narrowly focused. You could spend the rest of your life
doing a literature review on war whereas a literature review on women in the Gulf War
might be adequately addressed in several pages. Conversely, you might choose a topic
and discover that almost nothing has been written about it. Consult with a reference
librarian or your professor to be certain you’ve chosen wisely.

Writing a Literature Review: Selection Criteria
        Next, decide what types of literature will be included. Will you use books, journal
articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, web sites, and/or something else? How
old should the material be? How many items will be included?

Writng a Literature Review: Finding a Theme
        Once you choose a topic, you need to decide on a theme for that topic. As you
read literature on your topic watch for things such as trends, debates, different schools
of thought, gaps in the knowledge, etc., and pick one of these as your theme. In writing
the summaries, you may want to pay attention to your theme and use it to evaluate the
items. For example, if your topic is crop circles, and your theme is the skeptic’s point of
view, you will want to evaluate each item on the basis of how well it furthers that point of

Writing a Literature Review: Thesis Statement
       The thesis statement for a literature review argues neither for or against a
particular position but for a particular perspective on the literature. Continuing on with
our example of crop circles, a possible thesis statement might be:

The phenomenon known as “crop circles” has become worthy of investigation by the
scientific community.

The hallmarks of scientific literature on hoaxes are revealed in the literature on the
phenomenon known as “crop circles.”

There is a lot more to writing a literature review than can be easily covered in this
handout. The above represents some of the basic steps. Get all the details you can
from your professor. Find a literature review to use as a model. Consult one of these

Doing a Literature Review : Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination by
Chris Hart (3rd Floor, H62 .H2566 1998.

Writing Literature Reviews : a Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences
by Jose L. Galvan (3rd Floor, H61.8 ,G3 1999

Also try one of these Web sites:

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