A literature review is a comprehensive but concise summary of the research that has been done on a particular topic. The emphasis is on integration and interpretation of primary research articles.
Literature reviews are perhaps the most common assignment given in psychological science classes. The purpose of a literature review is to paint a picture of the field's collective knowledge and research on a specific topic while highlighting where further research may need to be conducted.
Students often struggle with the format of literature reviews; it can be difficult to truly interrogate and synthesize information across articles. Literature reviews should not be a summary of the articles; professors are looking for a critical analysis of recent research on your topic.
- Start by reading a variety of evidence-based research articles that represent the current state of knowledge on a narrowly defined topic. Make sure there is sufficient research evidence on the subject in terms of both quantity of research and diversity of sources.
- Analysis should be organized by key themes, trends, issues, or comparisons that are directly related to your thesis or research question. DO NOT simply provide individual summaries of each article.
- Emphasize where the present research fits with previous theories and studies, as well as gaps in the field that will be addressed by the current research.
- Include your own thoughts, evaluations, and questions of the literature.
- Make sure to provide adequate and accurate citations to avoid plagiarism. Although a literature review draws from research articles, all information should be paraphrased and properly cited using the American Psychological Association Manual (6th edition; see “How to Cite in APA Style”).
– a handout by Lynne Bond, UVM Emerita Professor