Literature Reviews

Research Steps 8


A literature review provides an overview of the scholarly information published to date on a specific topic, summarizing and synthesizing the ideas presented. At the undergraduate level, a literature review differs from a research paper in that no new primary research is presented. At the graduate level, literature reviews often constitute a chapter of a thesis or dissertation and provide an intellectual context for the author's own research.

The literature review differs from an annotated bibliography: it is a narrative document that synthesizes the sources consulted to develop a conclusion. An annotated bibliography deals with each resource in turn, describing and evaluating the source in a single paragraph.

Literature Reviews

  • Decide on your topic. Begin with an Overview of the topic, including the thesis statement for the review
  • Search relevant databases and library catalogs to Locate Sources
  • Write Annotations for each source, placing it in the context of their contribution to the research on the topic.
  • Organize the Sources into categories - e.g. those that support one position, those against the position, those that offer an alternative thesis. You may also choose to organize sources in chronological order within your categories
  • Connect Sources - explain how each source relates to other sources
  • Conclusion - discuss which sources are most effective in supporting their position and which sources contribute the most to the current understanding of the topic

Evaluating Review Sources

  • What are the author's credentials? Is the author's position supported by scholarly evidence (primary sources, case studies, statistics, peer reviewed research)?
  • Is the author objective? Is the information presented in an unbiased manner? Is opposing information reviewed in an open manner?
  • Is the author persuasive? Is the presented position convincing?
  • Is the presented information of value? Does the author make a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic?
You can copy & paste this Research Organizer into a Google Spreadsheet and share it with others. If you are doing a group project, it will allow you to share your research with each other as you find it, and prevent you from duplicating efforts. Under columns E-I, you can either summarize your findings from each source or directly quote relevant phrases (be sure to include page numbers where necessary). 

                                   Source: Notor, C. E., & Cole, V. (2010). Literature review organizer. International Journal of Education, 2(2). doi:


Literature Review Examples

Undergraduate Psychology Lit Review sample from Purdue University Writing Lab

Writing a Short Literature Review York College, CUNY

Literature Review on Critical Thinking from Gwendolyn Reece, Reference Faculty Member, American University

Literature Review Checklist

  • ​Analyze the topic carefully 
  • Identify the key aspects of the topic
  • Define the key terms 
  • Explain the organization of the review
  • Use primary research from peer-reviewed journals 
  • Summarize the research in your own words
  • Evaluate the research in your own words 
  • Identify areas for further research
Note: It is not enough to simply summarize the research literature. You need to demonstrate that you understand the relevance and significance of the publications you reviewed and how they relate to each other.

Annual Reviews

The Library's Annual Review Database covers ecology, medicine, psychology, public health, and computer science.  Included are reviews of the scholarly literature for a variety of specific topics. All articles are written by experts in the field. These authors carefully examine the primary research done on a topic and then select the major articles in that subject area.

Searching for Literature Reviews

You can search for literature reviews in specific databases using the strategies listed in the box in the right-hand column.    To search across all resources use the Advanced search.  

Enter "literature review" in the first search box and select "title".  Enter your topic in the second box and select "subject".  See this search for literature reviews on media violence.

Searching for Lit Reviews in Databases

Many of the library's databases provide access to literature reviews. These articles can be used to research and develop a current literature review on a topic.

Academic Search Premier, Business Source Premier, Communication & Mass Media Complete (CMMC), MEDLINE, SocINDEX with Full Text
Limit Your Results to "Scholarly Journals" and include "Literature Review" as a "Title" word

Biological Abstracts
Enter "Literature Review" and select "Document Type"

CINAHL (Nursing & Allied Health Database)
Enter "Systematic Review" and Select "Publication Type"

ERIC (Education Database) 
Enter "literature reviews" and select "Descriptors"

Google Scholar (Advance Search)
Enter "literature review" as an exact phrase 

PsycARTICLES (Psychology Database)
Enter your subject and "literature review"  and select "Methodology"

ProQuest Databases
Enter "literature review"  and select "Document Type"

Sage Full Text Collections (Communications, Health Sciences, Psychology, Sociology)
Enter "Review" and Select "Title"

Select "Journals" and enter "Literature Review" in the 2nd box and choose "Abstract, Title, Keywords" from the drop-down menu.

Enter "Systematic Review" and Select  "Title"