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Eastern Washington University Libraries


What is Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a study of existing published information on a specific topic. Literature reviews:

  • identify key information relevant to a topic
  • assess the status or quality of existing research
  • critically examine support for alternative theories or arguments
  • evaluate research methods used in previous studies.

A good literature review will consist of a summary of key sources, and is analytical and synthesizes information. Usually a literature review is organized, not however a chronological description of discoveries in your field, and explains how your research will address gaps in existing literature on a particular topic.


Doing a literature review. (2010). In Thomas, D. R., & Hodges, I. D. Designing and managing your research project: Core skills for social and health research (pp. 105-130). London: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781446289044

The Elements of a Literature Review:
  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review

  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)

  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others

  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

Steps for Starting Your Literature Review:

1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

2. Decide on the scope of your review.

  • How many technical studies do you need to look at?
  • How comprehensive should it be?
  • How many years should it cover? 

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

4. Conduct your searches and find the literature. 

  • Review the abstracts of technical studies carefully; you could also look at the conclusion of the technical study. This will save you time. 
  • Write down the searches you conduct in each database so that you may duplicate them if you need to later.You could use our RefWorks Citation Manager or Mendeley to keep yourself organized. (Please see the 'Cite Your Sources' page for tutorials.)
  • Use the bibliographies and references of technical studies you find to locate others.

5. Review the literature.

Writing a Literature Review

Our Writer's Center has a great Research Guide for steps on how to write a Literature Review: Writing the Literature Review