The literature review is the part of your paper or thesis in which you show that you understand the academic conversation you are joining. In the literature review, you discuss the scholarly work that precedes yours, that makes your work possible, or perhaps makes your work necessary.
Imagine this scenario: you walk into a large conference room filled with people discussing different issues, all relevant to your research topic. There are two empty chairs at a large table, and you sit in one and listen attentively; after a while, someone joins you, taking the other empty chair. They lean over and, in a low voice, ask you what everyone is talking about.
You whisper back: “I’m about to speak up and join the discussion, but I’ll explain some key parts of the conversation so far that you can understand what I’m about to say.” You summarize the key debates and positions. You identify the crucial contributions that others have made, particularly those that you’re going to build on or use in your work. You also point out the spots where there is debate, and the gaps – the issues that people should be talking about but aren’t.
There are multiple waves and stages to your research as you work on a thesis-length project. You might find that even after you’ve done a substantial amount of research, you still worry that you haven’t done enough or that you haven’t found the right sources. Librarians can help you find more sources or a richer selection of materials to work with. Critically, your advisor can often give you a sense of whether your research is adequately thorough. Your advisor can often help you vet the sources that you have for scholarly reputation and importance in your field, and point you in the direction of must-reads.
Literature Reviews Links
- Article: "A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review," Justus J. Randolph, Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation
- Book: Writing Literature Reviews: A Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Jose L. Galvan, Pyrczak Publishers
The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at email@example.com if we are missing something!