Literature review

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A literature review is a text of a scholarly paper, which includes the current knowledge including substantive findings, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews use secondary sources, and do not report new or original experimental work.[1]


Most often associated with academic-oriented literature, such as a thesis, dissertation or a peer-reviewed journal article, a literature review usually precedes the methodology and results section although this is not always the case. Literature reviews are also common in a research proposal or prospectus (the document that is approved before a student formally begins a dissertation or thesis). Its main goals are to situate the current study within the body of literature and to provide context for the particular reader. Literature reviews are a basis for research in nearly every academic field.[2] The main types of literature reviews are: Evaluative Review Exploratory Review Instrumental Review [3] A systematic review is a literature review focused on a research question, trying to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence and arguments relevant to that question. A meta analysis is typically a systematic review using statistical methods to effectively combine the data used on all selected studies to produce a more reliable result.

Process and product

Shields and Rangarajan (2013) distinguish between the process of reviewing the literature and a finished work or product known as a literature review.[4] The process of reviewing the literature is often ongoing and informs many aspects of the empirical research project. All of the latest literature should inform a research project. Scholars need to be scanning the literature long after a formal literature review product appears to be completed.

A careful literature review is usually 15 to 30 pages and could be longer. The process of reviewing the literature requires different kinds of activities and ways of thinking.[5] Shields and Rangarajan (2013) and Granello (2001) link the activities of doing a literature review with Benjamin Bloom’s revised taxonomy of the cognitive domain (Ways of thinking - Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating).[4][6]

The first category in Bloom's taxonomy is remembering. For a person doing a literature review this would include tasks such as recognition, retrieval and recollection of the relevant literature. During this stage relevant books, articles, monographs, dissertations, etc. are identified and read. Bloom’s second category understanding occurs as the scholar comprehends the material they have collected and read. This step is critical because no one can write clearly about something they do not understand. Understanding may be challenging because the literature could introduce the scholar to new terminology, conceptual framework and methodology. Comprehension (particularly for new scholars) is often improved by taking careful notes. In Bloom’s third category applying the scholar is able to make connections between the literature and his or her larger research project. This is particularly true if the literature review is to be a chapter in a future empirical study. The literature review begins to inform the research question, and methodological approaches. When scholars analyze (fourth category in Bloom's taxonomy) they are able to separate material into parts and figure out how the parts fit together. Analysis of the literature allows the scholar to develop frameworks for analysis and the ability to see the big picture and know how details from the literature fit within the big picture. Analysis facilitates the development of an outline (list). The books, articles and monographs read will be of different quality and value. When scholars use Bloom’s fifth category evaluating they are able to see the strengths and weaknesses of the theories, arguments, methodology and findings of the literature they have collected and read.[6] When scholars engage in creating the final category in Bloom's taxonomy, they bring creativity to the process of doing a literature review. In other words, they draw new and original insights from the literature. They may be able to find a fresh and original research question, identify a heretofore, unknown gap in the literature or make surprising connections. By understanding how ways of thinking connect to tasks of a literature review, a scholar is able to be self-reflective and bring metacognition to the process of reviewing the literature.[7]

Most of these tasks and thinking challenges occur before the writing even begins. The process of reviewing the literature and writing a literature review can be complicated and lengthy. It is helpful to bring a system of organization and planning to the task. When an orderly system can be designed, it is easier to keep track of the articles, books, materials read, notes, outlines and drafts. [8]

See also


  1. Baglione, L. (2012) Writing a Research Paper in Political Science. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press.
  2. Lamb, David. "The Uses of Analysis: Rhetorical Analysis, Article Analysis, and the Literature Review". Academic Writing Tutor. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  3. Research methods for graduate business and social science students, John Adams; et al
  4. 4.0 4.1 Shields, Patricia and Rangarjan, Nandhini. 2013. A Playbook for Research Methods: Integrating Conceptual Frameworks and Project Management. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press. pp. 193-229 ISBN 1-58107-247-3
  5. Baker, P. 2000. "Writing a Literature Review." The Marketing Review 1(2) 219-47.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Granello, D. H. 2001. "Promoting cognitive complexity in graduate written work: Using Bloom's taxonomy as a pedagogical tool to improve Literature Reviews." Counselor Education & Supervision 40, 292-307.
  7. Shields, Patricia and Rangarjan, Nandhini. 2013. A Playbook for Research Methods: Integrating Conceptual Frameworks and Project Management. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press. Shields and Rangarajan (2013) devote Chapter 8 to creativity in the research process.
  8. Shields, Patricia. 2000. Step by Step: Building a Research Project Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press

Further reading

  • Cooper, H. (1998). Synthesizing Research: A Guide for Literature Reviews.
  • Creswell, John (2014) "Review of the Literature", Chapter 2 of Research Design. Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Method Approaches, (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Dellinger, A. (2005). "Validity and the Review of Literature". Research in the Schools; 12(2), pp. 41–54.
  • Dellinger, A. B. & Leech, N. L. (2007). "Toward a Unified Validation Framework in Mixed Methods Research". Journal of Mixed Methods Research; Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 309–332.
  • Galvan, J. L. (2009). Writing Literature Reviews.
  • Green, B. N., Johnson, C. D., and Adams, A. (2006) "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews for Peer-Reviewed Journals: Secrets of the Trade". Journal of Chiropractic Medicine; 5(3), pp. 101–114.
  • Hart, C. (2008) ‘Literature Reviewing and Argumentation”. In The Postgraduate's Companion, (eds.) Gerard Hall and Jo Longman. UKGrad. United Kingdom. London: Sage Publications ISBN 978-1-4129-3026-0.
Various fields
  • Christopher, Aidan (2012). Stock/inventory Management System
  • Hart, C. (1998) Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. United Kingdom. 230 pp. London: Sage ISBN 0-7619-5974-2 Set book Open University Social Science Masters.
  • Hart, C. (2001) Doing a Literature Search: A Guide for the Social Sciences. 194 pp. London: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-0-7619-6809-2.