F&M College Library

SPA 371: Spanish for Health Professions

What is a Literature Review?

A Literature Review is a systematic and comprehensive analysis of books, scholarly articles, and other sources relevant to a specific topic providing a base of knowledge on a topic. Literature reviews are designed to identify and critique the existing literature on a topic to justify your research by exposing gaps in current research.  

This investigation should provide a description, summary, and critical evaluation of works related to the research problem and should also add to the overall knowledge of the topic as well as demonstrating how your research will fit within a larger field of study.  A literature review should offer a critical analysis of the current research on a topic and that analysis should direct your research objective. 

citation: USC Library

General structure of a lit review

Writing the introduction

In the introduction, you should:

  • Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.
  • Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
  • Establish the writer’s reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).

Writing the body

In the body, you should:

  • Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc.
  • Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance.
  • Provide the reader with strong “umbrella” sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, “signposts” throughout, and brief “so what” summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.

Writing the conclusion

In the conclusion, you should:

  • Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.
  • Evaluate the current “state of the art” for the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.
  • Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.

Source: The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, "How to Write a Literature Review

Questions to Ask

When exploring resources for your literature review, it's important to ask yourself questions about each resource that you're thinking of including. Questions like the following list can be helpful for this. 

  1. Who is the author? What professional affiliations do they have? Do they have a reputation in the field? 
  2. What references does this source cite? Do they even have a citation or reference list? 
  3. Who is the intended audience for this source? 
  4. What is the content of the source? Does it appear to be fact,  opinion, or something else? 
  5. How comprehensively does this source cover the topic? Is there anything missing? 
  6. Does the source use objective language? 
  7. Is the source accurate, or, does it line up with other sources you've found on the topic? 
  8. When was the source published? 
  9. Are the source's arguments backed up with evidence? 
  10. Does the source acknowledge other viewpoints? 

Question list based off of Purdue University's OWL: Evaluation During Reading. 

Furthermore, ask yourself: 

  1. How are your sources similar in terms of their methodologies, theories, claims, choice and interpretation of evidence, etc? 
  2. How do they differ in these regards? 
  3. Do you observe gaps in the research or areas that require further study? 
  4. Do particular issues or problems stand out? 

Source: Duke University Writing Studio