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Research & Applications MSED/MSOD

Strategies and tips for locating resources for your literature review project.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a means of demonstrating an author's knowledge about a particular field of study, including vocabulary, theories, key variables and phenomena, and its methods and history.  Conducting a literature review also informs the student of the influential researchers and research groups in the field.

Randolph, Justus J. "A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review."Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation 14.13 (2009): 1-13.


Above is a general definition for what a literature review can encompass.  It serves as a basis for the literature review assignment you have in this course. Here are some additional criteria for you to consider as you begin to consider research studies to use in the paper that you will write:

  • What has been done: this includes methods, populations, when was it studied?
  • What are the gaps: what aspects haven't been researched?
  • What are you going to do with the information you have found?

When you begin writing your literature review, it should be more than just a summary of what others have done.  You need to interact with the research that you find. 

What does this mean for you as a student researcher?

  1. Don't settle for the quickest and easiest search results that you run across.
  2. Research the books and journal articles that you use in a deliberate way (this guide will help with that aspect).
  3. Think critically about the information that you find.  What you're doing is much more than just a simple summary of other people's research.
  4. Be able to justify why you are including a research study in your review.  How does it influence the research study you would plan or hope to do?
  5. Identify potential risks or benefits of the research methods used and how they might have impacted the study.

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

  • distinguishing what has been done from what needs to be done
  • discovering important variable relevant to the topic
  • synthesizing and gaining a new perspective
  • identifying relationships between ideas and practices
  • establishing the context of the topic or problem
  • rationalizing the significance of the problem
  • enhancing and acquiring the subject vocabulary
  • understanding the structure of the subject
  • relating ideas and theory to application
  • identifying the main methodologies and research techniques that have been used
  • placing the research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the art developments

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. London: Sage Publications, 1998, p.27.

Other Books about Literature Reviews & Thesis Writing in Dugan Library