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BUSN/ECON 380: Research Methods in Business/Economics

Literature Review

What is a literature review?

  • A literature review is an integrated and critical analysis of the published literature directly related to your research question.
  • Your literature review should be guided by your research question.
  • It considers all sides of an argument, avoids bias, highlights areas of agreement and disagreement in the literature.
  • The review includes background information and further research developments that you analyse and synthesize with the premise of your research question.
  • Your literature review provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work of research that you include.

A Literature Review Is Not:

  • Not an annotated bibliography or summary of sources
  • Not a collection of everything written on a topic
  • Not a collection of loosely related studies
  • Not an investigation of sources selected to support one side of an issue over another, or make an argument for one point of view

Why conduct a literature review?

  • Explain the background of research on a topic, illuminate what has been researched
  • Demonstrate why a topic is significant to a subject area
  • Identify major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic
  • Identify relationships between ideas and practices
  • Gain insights into methodologies and research techniques that have been used
  • Illuminate unexplored ideas or populations, and identify new lines of inquiry
  • Test assumptions, counter preconceived ideas, and remove unconscious bias
  • Identify critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches
  • Discuss further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies

Type of sources can include:

  • books
  • book chapters
  • journal articles
  • working papers
  • conference proceedings
  • government publications
  • reports from organizations

(this explanation is distilled from guides at these universities: University of West Florida; University of Illinois; University of Pittsburgh)

(with thanks to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Writing Center Literature Review)

Finding a focus

A literature review is organized around ideas that are illuminated in sources, not the sources themselves. 
A literature review is not a list of sources with detail about each one of them.
As you read widely and also selectively on your topic area, consider what themes or issues connect your sources.
Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your literature review.

  • Do the sources present one or different solutions?
  • Is there an aspect of the field that is missing in the sources you read?
  • How well do the sources present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory?
  • Do they reveal a trend in the field?  Or a raging debate?

Use evidence

Be selective

Use quotes sparingly

Summarize and synthesize

Keep your own voice

Use caution when paraphrasing


Other useful guides: