F&M College Library

ART461: Art, History, and the Museum

A research guide for Professor Aleci's Fall 2019 ART461 course, Art, History, and the Museum.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a written component of your final report, that discursively accounts for literature published by accredited scholars and researchers on a particular topic. 

When writing a literature review (or lit review, for short), your job is to convey to the reader that you've fully accounted for the scope of research materials written about your particular topic, to convey the ideas written about the topic and their strengths and weaknesses. It is not simply a summary of materials that you've collected, but a critical appraisal of them. 

Citation: Dena Taylor, University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Center. 

What Makes a Good Literature Review?

A good literature review demonstrates that you have done two things skillfully: 

  1. Comprehensive scan of the literature: you have demonstrated your ability to scan through the literature on a given topic. 
  2. Critical evaluation of the literature: you have thoroughly dissected the arguments within the literature, identifying controversies, strengths, and weaknesses. 

A good literature review must also do these four things: 

  1. Have a good organizational structure, and be related directly to your topic or thesis. 
  2. Synthesize results into a summary of what is known and what is not known on your topic. 
  3. Identify areas of controversy within the literature. 
  4. Formulate further questions or gaps in the literature that need to be addressed. 

Citation: Dena Taylor, University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Center. 

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

Search Tips for Literature Reviews

  • Broaden your search. 
    • Use the boolean operator "AND" to tie in related search terms, or use "OR" if you have two terms that you are using for the same topic. 
  • Follow the citations in articles you do find. 
    • Do a little digging to see if the articles they site would be useful for your own research. 
  • Use a broad mix of keywords. 
    • Different articles can refer to the same topics in different ways, so it's important to brainstorm your keywords and mix up the phrasing or subtopics, if applicable.
  • Ask for help. 
    • If you're still struggling to find articles, schedule a meeting with your librarian for more help. 

What Materials Should I Include in My Literature Review?

This depends on the context of your research topic. 

Usually, scholarly books (also called monographs) and articles are included in humanities literature reviews. 

Sometimes, you can also include newspaper articles, historical/primary source materials, government publications, and/or professional literature (also called grey literature). 

If you have any confusion about what sources you can or should include, reach out to Professor Aleci or your librarian, Anna.