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Writing a Literature Review: Home

This guide provides an overview of the literature review and its place in a research project and contains resources for finding the information you need at APSU Library.

What is a Literature Review

A lit. review is a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the principal research about the topic being studied.

The review helps form the intellectual framework for the study.

The review need not be exhaustive; the objective is not to list as many relevant books, articles, reports as possible.

However, the review should contain the most pertinent studies and point to important past and current research and practices in the field.

Skills Needed

When conducting a literature review a researcher must have three quite distinct skills. He or she must be

  • adept at searching online databases and print indexes.
  • able to evaluate critically what has been read.
  • able to incorporate the selected readings into a coherent, integrated, meaningful account.

What is in a Literature Review?

A literature review is a systematic survey of the scholarly literature published on a given topic.  Rather than providing a new research insight, a literature review lays the groundwork for an in-depth research project analyzing previous research. Type of documents surveyed will vary depending on the field, but can include:

  • books
  • journal articles,
  • theses
  • dissertations.

A thorough literature review will also require surveying what librarians call "gray literature," which includes difficult-to-locate documents such as:

  • technical reports
  • government publications
  • working papers
  • preprints


Giuseppe Maria Crespi - Bookshelves Bookshelves by Giuseppe Maria Crespi (c. 1725)

A literature review serves several purposes. For example, it

  • provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
  • helps focus one’s own research topic.
  • identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
  • suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
  • identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
  • helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
  • suggests unexplored populations.
  • determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
  • tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

Electronic Resources Librarian

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Portions of this LibGuide have been borrowed from LibGuides at the following universities: