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Literature review: Resources

Writing a literature review

What is a literature review?

A literature review provides an overview of current research in a particular field. It is a way for you to give your reader a general understanding of the topic and to explain how your own research relates to the larger field of study. Your review should include a variety of viewpoints but needn't be overly long or repetitive.

Questions to ask

  • What is already known about this topic?
  • Who are the major researchers who have published work in this field?
  • Do opinions about this topic differ? What are the major points of disagreement?
  • Are there unexplored areas or gaps in understanding this topic?
  • How deeply have you read about your topic?

Knowing when to stop

How do you know when you have found enough sources for a review?

  • Are you seeing a lot of repetition of ideas in your research?
  • Are the same authors/researchers being cited in different articles?
  • Do you have a variety of viewpoints or approaches to your question?

Remember, you aren't trying to find ALL research that has been done on your topic. Instead, go for a broad overview of the major findings and differences of opinion.

Keep track of your sources

To avoid the frustration of finding a relevant article and not remembering how to get back to it, keep a reading log. Your log should include citation information plus a quick summary of the article to jog your memory.

Here's an example of a reading log template organized on Google Sheets. Copy this template and customize your own log to include whatever information is most helpful.

Conducting your research

The library has many useful resources to assist your research, and there are many free resources on the internet. Here are some places to start.

Subscription databases

Internet resources

Gray literature

Gray literature is academic information that is published in places other than academic journals. This information is produced by entities such as government agencies, think tanks, research facilities, or professional associations. There are far too many of these sites to index here, but an internet search of "gray literature" plus your topic may lead to useful results. For non-US research use "grey" instead of "gray."

Organizing your review

Below is an overview of what to include in a literature review and how you might organize it according to the Purdue Online Writing Lab:


  • Explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)


  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

See the Purdue OWL page for more on how to structure your lit review.

View these guides to learn the basics of constructing a literature review, including a sample paper and video tutorial: