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Literature Review Process: Introduction

Learn how the Libraries can help when you're writing a literature review.

Read Some Lit Reviews

A good starting point is to read some literature reviews in your field and become familiar with the organization and evaluation strategies in them. Here are some ways to find literature reviews:

  • Find research or review articles written by faculty in your department, or on your thesis/dissertation committee, to see how they wrote their lit reviews
  • Search in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, which contains full text dissertations and theses in all fields. Do a search for your topic or a related one and read the literature reviews in some of the resulting documents
  • Search a journal article database, such as Academic Search Complete, for your topic plus the word "review" to find standalone literature reviews 
  • Search Google Scholar for your topic plus the word "review" to find standalone literature reviews

Ask Us!

Need help? Then use the Libraries' Ask Us service. Get help from real people face-to-face, by phone, or by email.

Ask Us!

What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a synthesized account that evaluates the publications in a subject area, which are written by scholars or researchers. Literature reviews are used in a variety of contexts:

  • standalone article
  • introduction to a research paper
  • introduction to a research prospectus
  • an early chapter in a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation

Note that a literature review evaluates the literature; it does not simply summarize it.

Why Do a Literature Review?

You may have been told you're required to do literature review, but don't know why you have to go through the process. Remembering some of the "whys" may help you focus and write your literature review.

Standalone article:

  • Updates readers and the author on the current research, theories and methodologies in a subject area
  • Demonstrates that you can evaluate the literature

Research paper:

  • Sets the context for your thesis statement for the reader
  • Focuses your thesis statement
  • Demonstrates you can evaluate the literature


  • Explains the context of your research proposal and definitions in the field for a general audience
  • Demonstrates to professionals in the field that you are familiar with the literature relevant to your proposal and can evaluate it
  • Updates you on current research, theories and methodologies that will help focus your proposal

Thesis or Dissertation:

  • Allows you to determine whether your research question is original
  • Helps you focus your research question and hypothesis
  • Teaches you the important historical and current facts, theories, models, and methods in your topic area
  • Sets the context for your research question
  • Demonstrates to professionals in the field that you know how to do advanced literature searches and evaluate literature



Bloomberg, L.D., & Volpe, M. (2008). Completing your Qualitative Dissertation: A Roadmap from Beginning to End. Los Angeles: Sage

Machi, L.E., & McEvoy, B.T. ( 2009). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Sage.

O'Hara, M., Wainwright, J., & Kay, J. (2011). Successful dissertations : The complete guide for education, childhood and early childhood studies students. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing.

This class page is based on the 2011 presentation, "The Literature Review Process," created by librarian Annie Downey.

Subject Guide

Erin O'Toole's picture
Erin O'Toole
Willis Library, Room 080

What a Lit Review is NOT

A literature review is NOT:

  • an annotative bibliography
  • descriptive list
  • summary of your readings

You need to be evaluating the literature and explaining how it leads to your research question or supports your thesis statement.

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