Literature Reviews

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“A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic” (UCSC Literature Review Library Guide).

How to Write a Literature Review

Like much of the research process, the development of a literature review happens in stages:

  • Problem Formulation—which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues?
  • Literature Search—finding materials relevant to the subject being explored (this doesn’t necessarily mean searching for your exact topic).

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    WARNING: Don’t let THIS happen to YOU!

  • Data Evaluation—determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic
  • Analysis and Interpretation—discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

It might also be helpful to determine whether your research will be INDUCTIVE or DEDUCTIVE.

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Image from: Centre for Applied English Studies (CAES)

INDUCTIVE: Observation→ Pattern→ Tentative Hypothesis→ Theory
*Commonly said to be the “Qualitative Paradigm”

DEDUCTIVE: Theory→ Hypothesis→ Observation→ Confirmation
*Commonly said to be the “Quantitative Paradigm”

Types of Literature Reviews

There are four primary types of literature reviews. The literature review ‘type’ you use depends on the topic you are researching (adapted from University of Toledo’s Literature Review Library Guide).

Traditional or Narrative Literature Review

  • Critiques and summarizes a body of literature and gives your research validation.
  • Draws conclusions about the topic, ultimately arguing that in order to continue the advancement of this topic, your research is needed.
  • Identifies gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, framing it in a way that makes it clear that your research fills the gaps
    Examples: ‘we know this, this and this…but we don’t know this!’ OR ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened…obviously MY research is the next logical step!’)
  • Uses a sufficiently focused research question–definitely for those people who come into their research project with a well established question in hand.

Systematic (Evidence-Based) Literature Review

  • More rigorous and well-defined approach
  • Comprehensive
  • Published and unpublished studies relating to a particular subject area
  • Details the time frame within which the literature was selected
  • Details the methods used to evaluate and synthesize findings of the studies in question

Example of Systematic Review


Meta-Analysis Literature Review

  • A form of systematic review (reductive)
  • Takes findings from several studies on the same subject and analyzes them using standardized statistical procedures
  • Integrates findings from a large body of quantitative findings to enhance under-standing (study=unit of analysis)
  • Draws conclusions and detect patterns and relationships

Example of Meta-Analysis


Meta-Synthesis Literature Review

  • Non-statistical technique
  • Integrates, evaluates and interprets findings of multiple qualitative research studies
  • Identifies common core elements and themes
  • May use findings from phenomenological, grounded theory or ethnographic studies
  • Involves analyzing and synthesizing key elements
  • Goal:  transform individual findings into new conceptualizations and interpretations

Example of Meta-Synthesis
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More Information/Resources

Written by: Janae Teal
Last updated: 15 January 2016

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