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Writing a Literature Review: Home

Tips on writing a literature review (in any subject).

What is a Literature Review

A literature review is a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the principal research about the topic being studied.

The review helps form the intellectual framework for the study.

The review need not be exhaustive; the objective is not to list as many relevant books, articles, reports as possible.

However, the review should contain the most pertinent studies and point to important past and current research and practices in the field.

Skills Needed

When conducting a literature review a researcher must have three quite distinct skills:

  • adept at searching online databases and print indexes.
  • able to evaluate critically what she has read.
  • able to incorporate the selected readings into a coherent, integrated, meaningful account.


Bookshelves by Giuseppe Maria Crespi (c. 1725)

A literature review serves several purposes. For example, it:

  • provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
  • helps focus one’s own research topic.
  • identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
  • suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
  • identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
  • helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
  • suggests unexplored populations.
  • determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
  • tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

Library Liaison

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Mary Kate Boyd-Byrnes
B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library
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This LibGuide has been adapted from:
Boston College University Libraries
author: Brendan Rapple