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Comprehensive Literature Review: A Guide

This guide provides information on drafting and editing a literature review.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a collection of selected articles, books and other sources about a specific subject. The purpose is to summarize the existing research that has been done on the subject in order to put your research in context and to highlight what your research will add to the existing body of knowledge. Literature reviews are typically organized chronologically, thematically, or based on their methods.

Components of a Literature Review

Despite their various structures (see the descriptions below), literature reviews consist of the following elements:

  • Citations for the referenced materials
  • A discussion of the materials' research purpose, methods, and findings
  • A discussion of how those findings relate to your research
  • A discussion of the similarities and differences between cited materials 
  • A discussion of the gaps created by the material referenced and how your research can close those gaps

Literature Review Structures

Chronological order creates paragraph/sections that review the material in sequential order. This structure is useful when tracing the history of a research area. Remember, your materials should be discussed in chronological order regardless of your overarching review structure.

Literature Reviews that are organized methodologically consist of paragraphs/sections that are based on the methods used in the literature found. This approach is most appropriate when you are using new methods on a research question that has already been explored. Since literature review structures are not mutually exclusive, you can organize the use of these methods in chronological order.

Thematic literature review structure organizes paragraphs/sections of the review based on the themes in the literature. This approach may be useful when you are studying a new research problem but would like to contextualize your research with similar literature.

Sample Literature Reviews

Additional Resources

These resources provide an overview of the literature review: the purpose of a lit review, what to include in one and how to organize one.


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