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What is a literature review?

A literature review DOES:

  • discuss the work of others
  • describe, in a narrative fashion, the major developments that relate to your research question
  • evaluate other researchers' methods and findings
  • identify any gaps in their research
  • indicate how your research is going to be different in some way

A literature review DOESN'T:

  • simply list all the resources that you consult in developing your research (that would be a Works Cited or Works Consulted page)
  • simply list resources with a few factual, non-evaluative notes about what is in each work (that would be an Annotated Bibliography)
  • try to discuss every bit of research that has ever been done relating to your topic (that would be far too big of a task)
  • try to prove your hypothesis or explain your evidence/findings (that comes later, in the main part of your research paper)

The literature review should be organized in some logical fashion: 

  • chronologically
  • thematically
  • methodologically -- i.e., the research methods (case studies? interviews? clinical trials?) or evaluative techniques used by different researchers


Still confused?  See this guide from UNC for a more detailed explanation of lit reviews.

This 2-minute video provides a brief overview of the point of a literature review and includes pointers on organization.

In your student RCSA grant...

In various disciplines, the term "literature review" may refer to:

  1. Article-length studies which consist entirely of a review of academic literature on a given topic of study in a given discipline.
  2. One section of a scholarly article, dissertation, or even a book, in which the literature pertaining to the topic of study is reviewed.
  3. The practice, in whatever context, and to whatever purpose, of analytically reviewing the academic literature relevant to a topic.

In some disciplines, like the social sciences and the "hard" sciences, scholarly articles almost always have a "Literature Review" section.

In other disciplines, like the humanities, scholarly articles do not have a section so clearly demarcated; rather, they cite the literature throughout the text, so that the narrative review of scholarly literature develops in tandem with the study or thesis itself.

Nevertheless, the basic principles of how academic literature should be "reviewed" (sense #3 above) are fairly consistent.  In your RCSA Student Grant Proposal, the literature review should be part of the "Project Narrative" component of your application.

See the "Completed narrative" link here for an example of a successful Project Narrative from a prior year.

Resources in Chambers Library

The links above are from just some of the titles on research and writing available in the Max Chambers Library.

To find more books like these in our collection, see links on the Further Resources page or search the catalog using these subject terms:

"report writing"




To find discipline-specific books, add the subject term for the discipline.

For example, a subject query might look like this:

psychology AND (authorship OR "report writing" OR research OR dissertations)

For more help on subject searching, contact us directly, or view the Search Path tutorial.