A literature review provides an evaluative review and documentation of what has been published by scholars and researchers on a given topic. In reviewing the published literature, the aims are to explain what ideas and knowledge have been gained and shared to date (i.e., hypotheses tested, scientific methods used, results and conclusions established); to identify the weaknesses and strengths of these previous works; and to identify remaining research questions. A literature review provides the context for your research, making clear why your topic deserves further investigation.
A literature review involves both a literature search and writing. The purpose of the literature search is to:
• Reveal existing knowledge
• Identify areas of consensus and debate
• Identify gaps in knowledge
• Identify approaches to research design and methodology
• Identify other researchers with similar interests
• Clarify your future directions for research
(List above from Conducting A Literature Search, Information Research Methods and Systems, Penn State University Libraries)
It can be helpful to develop a comprehensive approach to review different sources and where you will search for each. Below is an example that shows the tools, individuals, and resources to use, consult, and search to conduct a comprehensive literature review.
Utilize Current Awareness Services
Where to Search
Annual Reviews and Bibliographies – e.g., Annual Review of Sociology, 12 Significant Sociological Publications on The Human Dimension of Disasters: How Social Science Research Can Improve Preparedness, Response, and Recovery
Internet – e.g., Discussion Groups, Listservs, Blogs, Twitter, Social Networking Sites, etc.
Grant Databases – e.g., National Science Foundation, Sociological Initiatives Foundation
Conference Proceedings – e.g., American Sociological Association
Newspaper Indexes – e.g., Lexis Nexis Academic, Ethnic NewsWatch
Journal Indexes/Databases and EJournal Packages – e.g., Social Sciences Full Text, Taylor & Francis Journals
Citation Indexes – e.g., Sociological Abstracts, Web of Science
Specialized Data – e.g., American FactFinder/U.S. Census Bureau
Book Catalogs – e.g., library catalog, WorldCat
Search Engines – e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing, Directories, e.g., Google Directory, InfoMine, Yahoo Directory
Digital Collections – e.g., Archives and Special Collections Digital Photo Project, Natives of Montana Archival Project (NOMAP), Digital Public Library of America
Community groups/institutions/organizations – Lambda Alliance, Poverello Center, National Coalition Building Institute
Searching for resources is an iterative process. Use the strategies below to narrow or broaden your search when you find too many, or too few, sources for your project.