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The Literature Review: 1. Introduction

This guide provides an introduction to the conduct and organization of a literature review

2. What is the "Literature"?

The works you consult in order to identify the ideas and knowledge that have been established on your topic:

Journal articles are the most common sources of materials for literature reviews. They provide:

  • concise and up-to-date information
  • some guarantee of the quality of the work they publish

Books are usually less up-to-date than journal articles. They are:

  • useful for providing overall summaries of the state of knowledge in an area
  • a starting point for finding more detailed information sources

Conference proceedings may contain research not yet published in journals.

Reports of government and international agencies

Theses and dissertations can be valuable sources of original research

Newspapers and magazines may inlcude news stories on research that you can follow up to find more detail

Web pages/documents on the Internet

3. What is a Literature Review?


"The selection of available documents (both published and unpublished) on the topic, which contain information, ideas, data and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfil certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated, and the effective evaluation of these documents in relation to the research being proposed." (Hart, 1998, p. 13)

"A literature review uses as its database reports of primary or original scholarlship and does not report new primary scholarship itself.... Second, a literature review seeks to describe, summarize, evaluate, clarify and/or interrogate the content of primary reports." (Cooper, 1998, p. 7)

"A literature review is a written document that presents a logically argued case founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about a topic of study. This case establishes a convincing thesis to answer a study's question." (Machi & McEvoy, 2009, p. 4)



4. What a Literature Review is Not!

It is not an annotated bibliography!

An annotated bibliography "is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited." Definition from Cornell University Library, available at

Major Differences

Literature Review

  • Written in essay style and organized around a central idea or thesis
  • A single source may be referred to numerous times depending on its importance in the field or its relationship to other sources


Annotated Bibliography

  • An alphabetical list of sources accompanied by summaries
  • A single source appears just once

5. Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students - NCSU Video



Lynda Quamina- Aiyejina, former Senior Librarian Indexer/Documentalist at CERIS, School of Education, The University of the West Indies, is responsible for developing this guide.  I have updated only where necessary.

Research Guide by Lynda Quamina - Aiyejina


Sincere thanks to Jennifer Warburton of the University of Melbourne for permission to draw on some of the content of her Guide.