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CJA & MPA Graduate Program: Library Research Introduction: What is a Literature Review?

CJA & MPA Graduate Program: Library Research Introduction

What is a Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?


  • A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area. 
  • A literature review can be a summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. 
  • A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. 
  • A literature review is not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize briefly each article.  While a summary is contained within the literature review, it focuses on and includes a critical analysis of the relationship among different works/sources. 

Books on Literature Reviews at McGrath

Types of Literature Reviews

Video Tutorial - Literature Review

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Why Literature Reviews?

Why write a Literature Review?

  • Literature reviews provide a handy guide to a particular topic. 
  • If you have limited time for research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a road map on the topic. 
  • Literature Reviews condense research and information from various works/sources into one place. 

Literature Review vs Academic Paper

How is a Literature Review different from an academic paper?

  • In an academic research paper, you use "the literature" as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute
  • In a literature review, the focus is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions. 

Short Quiz

Question 1.) What is a possible definition of a Literature Review? 

A. A review on a single monograph in a journal like the New York Review of Books 

B. A systematic review of the seminal and supporting works of scientific literature published on a particular topic

C. The articles published on current politics in The New York Times, The New Yorker, andthe Economist 

(B). A Literature Review includes a complete collection of the important and seminal works on a topic.

Question 2.) What is a distinguishable characteristic of a Literature Review

A. It provides a substantive amount of previous research conducted by others

B. It is written in the third person

C. It is primarily, if not entirely, made up of citations from previous science 

All of the Above. (A), (B), & (C) - A Literature Review provides an objective and disembodied voice that sums up all of the seminal and important research in a particular field. Literature Reviews often set the stage for a study that includes a methodology, results, conclusion, and discussion.

Question 3.) A Literature Review is primarily made up of

A. Your own opinion 

B. Citations from other work

C. Survey results 

(B). - A literature review is made up of a number of citations from the previously published work in a field.