This guide provides an overview of the literature review and its place in a research project, thesis, or dissertation, and demonstrates some strategies and resources for finding the information you need using the U of I Library.
A literature review is a survey of the scholarly literature published on a given issue, research topic, or theory, and provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. Rather than providing a new research insight, a literature review lays the groundwork for an in-depth research project analyzing previous research. Type of documents surveyed will vary depending on the field, but can include:
A thorough literature review will also require surveying what librarians call "gray literature," which includes difficult-to-locate documents such as:
Purposes of the Literature Review
Determine the research problem
Avoid useless approaches
Identify methods of future research
Find new lines of inquiry
Gain methodological insight
Reasons for Conducting a Literature Review
Distinguishing what has been done from what needs to be done
Discovering important variables relevant to the topic
Synthesizing and gaining new perspective
Identifying relationships between ideas and practices
Establishing the context of the topic
Rationalizing the significance of the problem
Enhancing and acquiring subject vocabulary
Understanding the structure of the subject
Relating ideas and theory to applications
Identifying main methodologies and research techniques that have been used
Placing research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-art development
Questions to Consider
What is the overarching question or problem your literature review seeks to address?
How much familiarity do you already have with the field? Are you already familiar with common methodologies or professional vocabularies?
What types of strategies or questions have others in your field pursued?
How will you synthesize or summarize the information you gather?
What do you or others perceive to be lacking in your field?
Is your topic broad? How could it be narrowed?
Can you articulate why your topic is important in your field?