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Research Guides

EDCI 636 - Educator as Researcher (Spring 2018)

What is a Literature Review?

  • The purpose of a review is to analyze critically a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles.
  •  A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant. 
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  •  Literature reviews mainly serve two purposes:
    - to summarize and evaluate the existing knowledge on a particular topic; or
    - to uncover a research problem for further study.


What are the Steps?


  1. Develop a review protocol. Protocols define the scope of studies that will be reviewed, the process through which studies will be identified, and the outcomes that will be examined. Protocols also specify the time period during which relevant studies will have been conducted, the outcomes to be examined in the review, and keyword strategies for the literature search.
  2. Identify relevant studies, often through a systematic search of the literature.
  3. Screen studies for relevance and the adequacy of study design, implementation, and reporting.
  4. Retrieve and summarize information on the intervention studied, the study characteristics, and the study findings.
  5. Combine findings within studies and across studies when relevant.


  • i) identify your topic of interest
    ii) perform a literature review
    iii) generate related questions
    iv) state your unsolved problem or hypothesis
    v) find or develop a solution, and vi) document your results.

  • Problem formulation—which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues?
  • Literature search—finding materials relevant to the subject being explored
  • Data evaluation—determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic
  • Analysis and interpretation—discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature
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Basic Elements of a Literature Review

  • An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review
  • Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely)
  • Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research    
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Choose a Citation Manager

Choose your citation tool before conducing your literature reviews. 

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