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Useful information to help you succeed as a student at Webster University

What is a literature review?

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a thorough overview and critical analysis of the research already conducted and published on a specific topic. A literature review can be a stand alone document written in order to explore the vast array of opinions, data, and voices concerning your topic of research. When writing for your thesis or dissertation, a literature review will be just one part of a much larger document, written to situate your research in the larger context of the topic itself. Diana Ridley in her text The Literature Review: A Step by Step Guide for Students explains that 

"your research is a small piece in a complicated puzzle jigsaw puzzle; it does not stand alone. It is dependent on what others have done before and will contribute to an ongoing story or debate. Your reader therefore needs to know about the whole jigsaw puzzle and not simply the shade or shape for your particular piece. In a literature review, you are contextualizing; you are describing the bigger picture that provides the background and creates the space or gap for your research" (2008; pg. 5).

Thus, the literature review should be more than just a summary of the resources and include, for example, interpretations, comparisons, evaluation, and clarification, of the research already performed on the topic. ​


A literature review as both product and process

Ridley also explains that the term literature review describes both a final product and a process itself. 

As Product:

As a noun, the literature review is part of the final draft of your stand alone document or part of your larger thesis or dissertation. It is the the piece of writing that allows the reader to know that you have engaged in deep research of your topic. It also allows you to build a dialogued with the research performed before yours, by offering an analysis of those works in relation to your own. This piece of writing will allow you to identify ideas, theories, terminology, or the timeline of thought about the topic as it has developed over time (Ridley, 2008, pg. 2). This piece of writing is where you are headed as you embark on the literature review process. 

As Process:

As a verb, the literature review is a continuous activity which begins as soon as you have selected a topic and begun your research (Ridley, 2008, pg. 3). While reading and collecting data, you will keep track of your findings in some sort of a research log or citation management system of your choice. Every author or idea you collect is an opportunity to build a connection in the larger research conducted on the topic and might hold a place in your literature review. 



Steps in doing a literature review

Steps in doing a literature review

1. Select a topic you can manage in the timeframe you have to complete your project. Narrow down the topic if it is too broad and establish your research questions.

2. Plan and conduct your literature search. Use a variety of sources, focusing on those that cover actual research as opposed to opinion.

3. Organize and present your results. Arrange your review by ideas and summarize for the reader. Cite the resources you refer to in your project thoroughly and accurately.

See the pages on the left side to learn more about how you can do each of these steps.

Finding scholarly journal articles

Finding scholarly journal articles

To get a sense of the available research, you may want to start with a multidisciplinary article database such as Academic Search Premier or Business Source Complete (for management and business).  Then, you may want to do a more thorough search in additional specialized sources--see the the link below.

Style of writing for a literature review

Style of writing for a literature review

Here are some universal tips for writing your literature review: 

  • Use section headings and titles as this allows your reader to trace your argument and evidence. 
  • Write using active voice  (Machi and McEvoy, 2016, pg. 151). 
  • Make sure your verb tense and point of view are consistent throughout. 
  • Paraphrase and summarize the sources discussed instead of using direct quotes. 
  • Actively synthesize your sources.  


Example of tone:

Check the Writing Tips to the right and the Resources/Assistance tab at the top for detailed advice on writing a literature review. Another page, "Finding Examples of Literature Reviews", will help you locate actual literature reviews with information on your topic.

The most important thing to remember when writing the review is to group your resources by the main ideas or points you want to cover. Let's say you were reviewing the use of social media in the workplace. You might want to group research studies that found negative aspects and discuss them altogether, for example:

A number of studies have focused on negative aspects of social media in the workplace. Gaudin (2009) shared statistics regarding the impact that Facebook use had in lowering employee productivity. Additional studies examined employee struggles to maintain work-home balance (Derks, Duin, Tims, & Bakker, 2015) and serious issues such as cyberbullying (Hall & Lewis, 2014).

Then you could contrast these studies with ones that found positive outcomes from using social media in the office, for example:

Despite ongoing concerns regarding social media use in the workplace, studies of a number of businesses have pointed to what are clearly positive aspects of such use. Researchers reported numerous benefits, including better communication between employees and administrators (Barker, 2008), facilitation of intergenerational collaboration (Majchrzak, Cherbakov, & Ives, 2009), and encouraging a culture of innovation (Dahl, Lawrence, & Pierce, 2011).

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Webster Writing Center and Online Writing Center

Webster U's Writing Center and Online Writing Center

Whether you are an experienced academic writer or this is your first paper, Webster's Writing Center is here to help. Visit their Writing Support page to find help with all kinds of project, including "reports; résumés and cover letters; admission essays and personal statements; summaries, critical analyses, and literature reviews; research and term papers; theses and dissertations; and more." Writing Center coaches are available at all stages of the writing process: assignment discussion, brainstorming, outlining, thesis creation and development, argumentation, draft revision, and citation.

From this page you may:

  • Schedule an appointment with a writing coach
  • Submit a paper to the Online Writing Center for review
  • Select Writing Resources to find help with citation, grammar, avoiding plagiarism, and more