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Comprehensive Literature Review

Borrowed from Tulane University, Jennifer Corbin's guide for Forensics PhD students

What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an overview of selected articles, books and other sources about a specific subject. The purpose is to summarize the existing research that has been done on the subject in order to put your research in context and to highlight what your research will add to the existing body of knowledge. Literature reviews are typically organized in some way (chronological, thematic, methodological).

Note that your literature review is separate from your works cited page or bibliography, although sources used in your literature review will need to be cited properly in them.

Let's take a look at an example of a literature review in an article, a dissertation, and a review article.

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review may constitute an essential chapter of a thesis or dissertation, or may be a self-contained review of writings on a subject. In either case, its purpose is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration
  • Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in, previous research
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort
  • Point the way forward for further research
  • Place one's original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of existing literature

The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.