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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship & Benjamin Mays Library Research Guide

What is the purpose of a literature review?

A literature review is a piece of writing that summarizes the current state of existing research on a specific topic. Literature reviews are often located within or immediately after the introduction section in a published article. Some journal articles are entire standalone literature reviews (review articles). 

Literature reviews help to bring readers up to speed on a specific topic. They also can help you as the writer by:

  • Providing context for your own research
  • Demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the field of study
  • Providing ideas for your own research
  • Identifying methods which may be useful for your own research

Source: BrettleA., & KoufogiannakisD. (2018). Creating a meaningful literature reviewIn R. V. Small & M. A. Mardis (Eds.)Research methods for librarians and educators (pp. 2136)Santa Barbara: CALibraries Unlimited.

What are the steps in creating a literature review?

‚ÄčIn order to develop a literature review, you must locate sources that substantively discuss your topic. In the review you should:

  • Identify seminal research (noteworthy scholarship). 
  • Develop themes or categories to organize the sources you find.
  • Identify points where research findings have settled an issue and where disagreements still exist.
  • Identify where "gaps" exist (ideas that are unexplored or under-explored). The gaps you identify should help to provide a justification for your own original research.

Example of a literature review section in a research article

Example of a stand-alone review article

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