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BIO 3800: Biological Research

What is a literature review?

A literature review ought to be a clear, concise synthesis of relevant information. A literature review should introduce the study it precedes and show how that study fits into topically related studies that already exist. Structurally, a literature review ought to be something like a funnel: start by addressing the topic broadly and gradually narrow as the review progresses.

from Literature Reviews by CU Writing Center

Why review the literature?

Reference to prior literature is a defining feature of academic and research writing. Why review the literature?

  • To help you understand a research topic
  • To establish the importance of a topic
  • To help develop your own ideas
  • To make sure you are not simply replicating research that others have already successfully completed
  • To demonstrate knowledge and show how your current work is situated within, builds on, or departs from earlier publications

from Literature Review Basics from University of La Verne

Literature Review Writing Tips

Synthesize your findings. Your findings are your evaluation of the literature reviewed: what you consider the strengths and weakness of the studies reviewed; the comparison you did between studies; research trends and gaps in the research that you found while researching your topic, etc...

Across the articles that you read, pay attention to what are the:

  • Common/contested findings
  • Important trends
  • Influential theories

Organizing a Literature Review

Your literature review should have the following components:

  • Introduction: Provide an overview of your topic, including the major problems and issues that have been studied.
  • Body: This is where you actually talk about the literature and your findings. There are a few different ways you can structure this section. Your professor may have a preference, so be sure to ask them first. 
    • Thematic: You may have noticed specific themes emerge as you did your reading; if so, this may be a good way to organize your literature review. 
    • Chronological: To use the example above, you may have observed that the way principals deal with behavioral problems has changed over time. If that's the case, perhaps you want to give a historical overview of the literature.
    • Methodological: There are a number of different types of methodologies used in research.
  • Conclusion/Discussion: Summarize what you've found in your review of literature, and identify areas in need of further research. Make sure to mention any gaps in the literature - things you think should have been researched, but were not.

Other Libguides

A literature review may exist as:

  • part of a larger whole like a section of a journal article or dissertation, or chapter of a book
  • a self-contained entity, like an entire journal article