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Literature Reviews, finding and using them: Home

What is a literature review?

Literature reviews are special types of journal articles that contain surveys of selected articles, books, or other materials on a specific topic.  Students can read literature reviews to get an overview of what's been previously published on a subject. 

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010, p.10) defines literature reviews as follows:

"Literature reviews, including research syntheses and meta-analyses*, are critical evaluations of material that has already been published. In meta-analyses, authors use quantitative procedures to statistically combine the results of studies. By organizing, integrating, and evaluating previously published material, authors of literature reviews consider the progress of research toward clarifying a problem. In a sense, literature reviews are tutorials, in that authors

• define and clarify the problem;
• summarize previous investigations to inform the reader of the state of research;
• identify relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature; and
• suggest the next step or steps in solving the problem.

The components of review articles can be arranged in various ways (e.g., by grouping research based on similarity in the concepts or theories of interest, methodological similarities among the studies reviewed, or the historical development of the field)."

See these links for additional information and examples:

OWL: Online Writing Lab: Sample APA Papers: Literature Review
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center

*Definition of meta-analysis:
Meta Analysis – Statistical analysis of previously published empirical data. See example, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 57-59. Available in Reference Room, 3000 Level, Booth Library: Ref BF 76.7 .P83 2010

Search strategies for specific databases

Some journal databases are very helpful in locating literature reviews, but each one requires a different search strategy or search terminology, as in the following examples.  Choose the appropriate selections from the drop-down menus at right.   In addition, look for and check off the box labeled Peer Reviewed Articles before performing your search.

In Academic Search Complete:

In ERIC/EBSCO (for education topics):

In PsycInfo (for psychological or behavioral topics):

In CINAHL Plus with Fulltext (nursing, medicine, health topics):

In Abstracts in Social Gerontology (topics in caring for older persons):

In PubMed with EIU Electronic Journals (nutrition, dietetics, medical topics):

Evaluating the result list

Within your search results, your search words will be highlighted in bold.  The following example comes from an ERIC database search for literature reviews dealing with bullying.  Read the abstract thoroughly, and note the exact focus of the literature review article that it describes.

Example abstract for literature review in ERIC

If the full article isn't linked from the results page, click the Get Full Textlink to see where you can find it.
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