Literature Review

A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to your research topic or thesis statement. It should provide a theoretical summary or critical evaluation of these scholarly works. You will need to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the research that you've found on your topic. A literature review should give context to your thesis and, if possible, reveal any gaps in current literature.

What is in a Literature Review?

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories. 

  • A summary is a recap of the important information in the source.
  • A synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem.

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

  • To give you a better understanding of your topic.
  • To demonstrate to your readers what you know about your topic.
  • To bring your readers up-to-date and fill them in on what has been published on your topic.
  • To provide context for your new ideas.

5 Steps for Completing a Literature Review

Step 1: Brainstorming & Choosing a Topic

Step 2: Finding Sources

Step 3: Reading Sources & Taking Notes

  • Reading Sources: Skim and scan sources resulting from your searches by reading titles, abstracts, methodologies, and review references.
  • Use our Source Cover Sheet to cite and take useful notes as you research!

Step 4: Identify Themes & Patterns

  • Skim your notes to sort out themes (methodologies, data, results, etc.). Make note of any chronological or structural order. 
  • Ask yourself: Does a topic develop over time? What strengths or weaknesses did you find? Do you agree or disagree with conclusions? Do these articles within the scope of your topic?

Step 5: Begin writing!

  • Make an outline or structural form of your review. Remember your audience. Avoid too much jargon. Avoid tangents and stay focused on your thesis.
  • The introduction focuses on the purpose, overview, and background of your topic. The body focuses on themes, advancements of theories, and questions related to the topic. The conclusion focuses on summarizing findings, exposing gaps in knowledge, and providing a rationale for future research.


NOTE: This guide provides general guidelines to follow when writing a literature review, however there are differences between discipline and class/professor requirements. 

This information is adapted from the GVSU Libraries Subject Guides.

Meet with a Consultant

Have other questions? Research consultants can help! We specialize in brainstorming topics, finding sources, reading scholarly materials, and evaluating research. 

Stop by the Knowledge Market during open hours or make an appointment to talk with a research consultant.

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Page last modified September 7, 2022