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Home >> Research & Instruction >> Research Services Blog >> Literature Review Assignment Help
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Working on a literature review but not sure where to start? Read on to find out more about what a literature review is and how to use the library resources to write one.

So, what is a literature review?

A literature review refers to a paper that focuses on a set of published information in a particular subject area, usually for a set period of time.

Literature reviews can range in the way they discuss the published information. Some are summaries of recent published research, others analyze the published research that is both summary and synthesis.  Typically, the goal of a literature review is to give the reader a better understanding of the current published information in a particular field by summarizing the major developments in that field using academic research articles limited to that specific subject.

What’s NOT a literature review?

A literature review doesn’t necessarily refer to writing a review on a book of stories or poems. In this case, “literature” refers to any collection on work on a specific topic. For example, this could mean a range of different things, from recent scholarly articles written about water purification techniques to a set of government documents on potential tax reform policies. 

The review portion of this assignment also doesn’t refer to giving one’s opinion on the collection of material like you might if you were writing a book review. 

Lastly, a literature is not an annotated bibliography which asks you to very shortly summarize the articles you have found.

Is a literature review different than my other academic papers?

Yes, a literature review usually asks the author to look at the research of others and summarize/analyze/contextualize this research rather than asking the author to develop new research/arguments/contributions to the subject at hand.

In an academic research paper, your goal as the author, is to develop a new argument that you support using a variety of sources (original experiments/research, current literature, primary source, etc.).  A literature review may be one segment of your academic paper- it helps you lay the foundation for your own original analysis. It does not present new primary research.

Getting Started

Make sure you have an understanding of the requirements from your professor as literature reviews can range in specifics. Still confused on what you need to do? Ask your professor. Here are some questions to help:

  • How many sources do I need?
  • Is there a time period limit?
  • What type of sources should I look at: Books, articles, websites, etc.?
  • Do you want me to summarize, critique, contextualize based on a certain theme?


Want an example? You can find literature reviews by searching in the library’s article databases.

  1. Go to a Research guide in your larger field (biology, business, literature, etc.)
  2. Click on the Articles Tab for a list of recommended databases with articles in your subject area
  3. Choose a database and search by keyword for your narrow topic
  4. Add “literature review” or review to your keywords to find examples of reviews written in your area of interest.

Once you feel comfortable of the expectations for your literature review use the library databases to find the necessary research to include in your review.

Tips on Researching your Topic

  1. Make sure your topic is narrow- there are thousands of articles written in each subject every year. When brainstorming your topic keep this in mind. You want to have a topic narrow enough that you can research but not so narrow that there are is no or very little information written on your topic.
  2. Remember, that literature reviews often are interested in current trends, research, etc. In most databases, you can limit your searches by time period to help with this.
  3. Literature reviews are not just a random selection of articles. You still need to think about your literature review in terms of the broader purpose of your assignment. Are you supposed to analyze or contextualize recent research in a certain way? Keep that in mind when picking your narrow topic and keywords to find your research.

Additional Sources:

SDSU Writing Center
The Writing Center at University of Wisconsin- Madison- Literature Reviews
UNC Writing Center- Literature Reviews

Still need help? First, talk to your professor who assigned the literature review to get clarification on their expectations.  Need help with the research portion? Contact or set up an appointment with a librarian who specializes in your subject area.

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