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Communication Research Strategies

Literature reviews

Not to be confused with a book review, a literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings, reports) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory.  Literature reviews provide a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of and background on significant literature published on a topic, as well as your own critical thinking on how these works comprise this background, and what questions remain unaddressed by the existing literature.  A literature review's 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 (or retest previous effort to confirm of dispute it)

  • Point the way forward for further research

  • Place one's original work in the context of existing literature


Literature reviews should comprise the following elements:

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review

  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)

  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others

  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research

The literature review does not present new primary scholarship.  That comes in the section of your research that describes your experimentation (see the Research Process tab under Getting Started With Research).

Although created for a biology class at Angelo State University in Texas, librarian Amaris Guardiola offers great tips in a brief video.

nformation adapted from the UC Santa Cruz University Library and Angelo State University

To find similar books go to Advanced Search in the Library Catalog and search research as a subject AND methodology as a subject and maybe add a focus like social science or nursing as a keyword.

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