A literature review is a comprehensive summary of previous research on a topic. The literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, and other sources relevant to a particular area of research. The review should enumerate, describe, summarize, objectively evaluate and clarify this previous research. It should give a theoretical base for the research and help you (the author) determine the nature of your research. The literature review acknowledges the work of previous researchers, and in so doing, assures the reader that your work has been well conceived. It is assumed that by mentioning a previous work in the field of study, that the author has read, evaluated, and assimiliated that work into the work at hand.
A literature review creates a “landscape” for the reader, giving her or him a full understanding of the developments in the field. This landscape informs the reader that the author has indeed assimilated all (or the vast majority of) previous, significant works in the field into her or his research.
The purpose of a literature review is to:
- Provide foundation of knowledge on topic
- Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication and give credit to other researchers
- Identify inconstancies: gaps in research, conflicts in previous studies, open questions left from other research
- Identify need for additional research (justifying your research)
- Identify the relationship of works in context of its contribution to the topic and to other works
- Place your own research within the context of existing literature making a case for why further study is needed.
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This guide brings together all the resources you will need to understand what a literature review is (and isn’t), and to conduct and write your own literature review.