James Madison University
Libraries & Educational Technologies


Literature Review

What is a Literature Review

Components of a Literature Review

How to Evaluate Sources for a Literature Review

Examples of Literature Reviews

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a narrative (not a list) covering a selected number of resources with a strong relationship to your chosen topic.  It includes a description and critical evaluation and comparison of each work.  The materials selected are those that are truly relevant to your topic.

In the literature review you make your case for further research.  Your review of the  highlights gaps in existing knowledge, and asks questions that will fill information in the topic area.  The literature review often has a thesis or statement of research purpose, either directly stated or implied, that shapes its narrative.

A literature review is not a list, summary of available materials without any critical evaluation, or an annotated bibliography.

Why do a literature review?

The literature review forms the basis of your argument.  It puts your research within the context of your topic, and shows how your research fills out that knowledge area.  In order to provide a complete context, you should include all sources that pertain to your highly focused topic.

Some specific reasons for a literature review:

Excerpted from Johnson, Janet B and H.T. Reynolds (2005) Political Science Research Methods 5th ed.

A literature review will help you:


Components of the Literature Review:

Overview: here you can briefly discuss your topic area, present your research question and preliminary thesis, and make a case for the specific research you are doing.

Division of sources into categories:  Works can be organized by pro/con, or alternative views, by theoretical approach, or other principles of organization depending on your topic and argument.  No matter how your narrative is organized, each category should have discussion of strengths, weaknesses, value and comparisons to other sources.

Conclusion:  How does existing research support/contradict your research; how will your research resolve these differences?


How to Evaluate Sources:

Examples of literature reviews:

Most academic research articles will have a literature review section, usually immediately following the introduction.  Occasionally you will come across research articles that are extended literature reviews on a topic.  These review articles (different from reviews, which offer criticism, usually of new works) compile and analyze the previous literature and provide a “state of the art” view of the topic.

Annual Reviews are literature reviews writ large: an annual publication of collected articles that look back over important contributions to the literature of various fields.  Look under "Journals" on the Annual Reviews web page to see if there are publications in your subject area(s).


James Madison University Libraries & Educational Technologies