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What is a literature review?

What are Literature Reviews?

Literature reviews examine scholarly literature surrounding a subject-area, topic, or historical event. Literature reviews typically synthesize popular academic arguments, spanning multiple viewpoints. They often explore common trends, themes, and arguments, examining how perceptions of an event have changed over time. However, literature reviews are more than historiographies. Literature reviews should evaluate sources, determining common argumentative flaws. They should also identify knowledge-gaps in the field. You should not make a new argument in your literature review. However, you should evaluate the legitimacy of current sources and arguments. 

An example literature review, from the University of West Florida, is attached below:

How Should I Write My Literature Review? 

  • Literature reviews on your subject likely already exist. Before writing your literature review, you should examine pre-existing ones. This process will quickly familiarize you with prominent themes, arguments, and sources in your field.
  • Once you are familiar with influential arguments and sources, you should begin organizing your literature review. Literature reviews are organized by ideas, not sources. You should align your sources to popular arguments, evaluating the similarities and differences between these arguments. Ideally, you should examine how the scholarly conversation has changed over time. What aspects of the conversation have become more important? What arguments have fallen out of favor? Why has this happened? 
  • Most literature reviews follow the typical "research paper" format.
    • The introduction should briefly introduce common themes, and foreshadow your organizational strategy.
    • The "body" of your literature review should analyze sources and arguments.
    • Finally, the conclusion should identify gaps in the scholarly conversation, and summarize your findings. Where is further research needed?
  • Like a research paper, your literature review should include a bibliography. 

For more information on literature reviews, including more tips on writing them, visit the link below:

Literature Review: Conducting & Writing by the University of West Florida Library

Davidson College Library Research Guides are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Mailing Address: Davidson College - E.H. Little Library, 209 Ridge Road, Box 5000, Davidson, NC 28035