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Savvy Researcher Workshops

A guide to library research workshops for WSU undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching assistants and instructors.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a systematic survey of the scholarly literature published on a given topic. It forms the framework for your research project by providing comprehensive and up-to-date overview of previous research.  Rather than being exhaustive, a literature review should cover past research that is most pertinent to your topic.  Reviewing the literature will also help you identify gaps in current research where you can contribute new knowledge.

What is a Literature Review? Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand

Writing a Literature Review

A literature review should include:

  • An introduction to the subject, issue or theory under consideration and to the objectives of the review.
  • A section that organizes works into themes or categories with an explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others.
  • A conclusion/synthesis that indicates which sources make the best arguments and greatest contribution to the understanding of the topic and how they relate to your research. '

Questions to address: What are the common themes of the reviewed literature? How did you develop these themes? Did you compare and contrast themes? How did the themes fit together? Which studies didn't fit into your argument or address your research? Are there gaps in the literature? Are your themes organized so they relate to each other and follow a logical order? Do the organized themes address your research question? How does your research address any gaps in previous research or literature?

Writing a Literature Review   Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand

Literature Reviews   Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Getting Started on Finding Sources

Some good places to start in planning your research and finding appropriate sources:

  • SmartSearch (to search for articles, books, and more held by WSU Libraries)


Finding Subject-Specific Sources

The kinds of sources included in your literature review will vary depending on the field of study and your research topic, but they may include:

  • Scholarly Journal Articles
    Use journal databases found in the relevant A-Z Database List. If possible, find review articles that give detailed coverage and extensive bibliographies on your topic. Don't forget to check for databases in all subject areas that apply to your topic.

  • Books and Ebooks
    To find books and ebooks held by WSU Libraries, use the Online Catalog. For books not held by WSU Libraries, search WorldCat and use Interlibrary Loan to borrow books from other libraries.
  • Reference Works
    To find academic encyclopedias and dictionaries for background information and terminology for your research, search the Online Catalog or a specific database for reference works such as Gale Virtual Reference Library and Credo.
  • Book Chapters, Conference Proceedings, and Dissertations
    Many journal databases provide access to book chapters, encyclopedias, and dissertations. Find appropriate journal database in the  
    A-Z Database List. For dissertation databases, see the Theses and Dissertations library guide.
  • Government Publications
    To find government publications, use the Online Catalog or a database specific for government documents such as GPO Access for federal documents.. You can also access publications at specific agency websites.

Further Reading on Literature Reviews

Print books have call numbers. The title links to the Online Catalog record so you can see if the book is currently available and not checked out. Ebooks do not have call numbers. The title links directly to the ebook.

General Guides

Social Sciences and Humanities

Sciences and Engineering

Health Sciences

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