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Literature Reviews & Search Strategies

What is a Literature Review?

The exact process and structure will vary depending on the type of literature review you're doing, but in short:

"A literature review develops a case for a thesis based on a comprehensive understanding of the current knowledge of the topic. A literature review synthesizes current knowledge pertaining to the research question. This synthesis is the foundation that allows the researcher to build a convincing case."

- The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success

Why do a Literature Review?

A literature review is a way to identify:

  • important works and authors in the topic area;
  • trends and current issues in the topic area;
  • potential gaps in the literature;
  • a conceptual framework for your research;
  • divergent opinions on the topic;
  • demonstrate your understanding of the current state of the field through your synthesis of the sources you find.

- Based on the University of St. Thomas Writing a Literature Review Guide

How is it different from an Annotated Bibliography?

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources, each of which is summarized and evaluated individually. An annotated bibliography is a great early step in an evidence-gathering process; your annotations can be great notes to come back to later on.

Through a literature review you identify important themes within your topic/question, cite the sources that support each theme, and then write syntheses of what the literature says about each theme. A literature review requires a higher level of critical thinking and writing skills than an annotated bibliography.

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