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McNair Scholars Program

What is a review of literature?

An integrated analysis that:

  • Summarizes
    • What questions were addressed?
    • What are the main conclusions (What does the study argue?)
  • Synthesizes
    • Where do the studies agree?
    • Where do they disagree?
      • What are the bases for disagreement?
    • What theories/policies/evidence were looked at?
  • Critiques (strengths/weaknesses)
    • How solid are the conclusions?  Or, is there reason to doubt the conclusions? Are they based on:
      • Sound reasoning
      • Careful assessment of evidence
      • Well-executed methodology
    • What is overall quality of the literature?
  • Points out gaps
    • What questions were neglected?
    • What relevant information and alternative theories were not discussed?
    • What problems require additional research?

Organizing a Review of Literature

  • Introduction
    • Define topic and establish reason for literature review
    • Point out general trends about topic
    • Explain criteria used in analyzing and comparing articles
  • Body of Review
    • Groups articles in
      • Thematic clusters (chronologically, thematically, or methodologically)
      • Subtopics
    • Smooth, logical transition between clusters
    • Emphasizes main findings or arguments of articles in student’s own words (very limited direct quotations from articles)
  • Conclusion
    • Summarizes major themes and identifies areas of controversy
    • Pinpoints strengths and weaknesses among articles
      • Innovative methodology
      • Gaps in research
      • Etc.
    • Concludes by forming questions that need further research
    • Provides insight into relationship between that topic and larger field of study/discipline

Relational Words and Phrases That:

  • Point out relationships between articles
  • Define connections
  • Explain how they come together to represent a body of knowledge

On one hand

Rejected

On the other hand

Confused

Contrary to

Reinforced

In line with

A similar focus/approach/tone

Parallel to

A slightly different focus/approach/tone

Related to

A broader scope

Linked to

A narrower scope

Responded to

More specific/more general

Elaborated

In the same vein

Undermined

In a different sphere

Explored/investigated

Adapted

Contributed to the research on

Missed

Entered the debate

Supported

Re-emphasized the categories

Revisited the same subject

In agreement with

Revolutionized the field of

In opposition to

Bypassed the debate

In confirmation of

Broke out of the paradigm

In response to

Went beyond

In reaction against

Misinterpreted

In contrast to

criticized

Influenced by

 

What a Review of Literature is Not

  • Just a summary
  • Grouping of broad, unrelated sources
  • Compilation of everything ever written on the topic
  • A literary criticism

Types of Literature Reviews

  • Course assignment (stand alone/selective)
  • Review article (stand alone/comprehensive)
  • Intro to journal (part of larger work/selective)
  • Thesis/dissertation (part of larger work/comprehensive)