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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Demystifying the Literature Review

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.

Cooper’s Taxonomy of Literature Reviews

This chart lists some questions you should ask yourself before beginning a Literature Review. For example, the first row, "FOCUS," is asking what outcomes, methods, theories or practices your literature review is about. Are you tracking the outcomes of previous studies, the methods that have been used over time, or something else?

CHARACTERISTIC                       CATEGORIES (only some will apply)
FOCUS

Research Methods

Research Outcomes

Theories

Practices or Applications

GOAL

Integration

  (a) Generalization

  (b) Conflict Resolution

  (c) Linguistic bridge-building

Criticism

Identification of Central Issues

PERSPECTIVE

Neutral Representation

Espousal of Position

COVERAGE

Exhaustive

Exhaustive with Selective Citation

Representative

Central or Pivotal

ORGANIZATION

Historical

Conceptual

Methodological

AUDIENCE

Specialized Scholars

General Scholars

Practitioners or Policymakers

General Public

 

Source: “Organizing Knowledge Synthesis: A Taxonomy of Literature Reviews,” by H.M. Cooper, 1988, Knowledge in Society, 1, p. 109.

Cooper in Context

You don't need a definitive answer to all these questions, but they will help focus your research. Questions to consider:

  • Which of these characteristics seem to fit within your field?
  • What would you like your Literature Review/thesis/dissertation to accomplish?
  • Is your aim to influence theory within your field, or have specific application?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Does your field necessitate a particular perspective?
  • How does your field typically organize its findings?