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WRPR 101: Finding a Voice (HC): Lit Reviews

Writing Program 101: Finding a Voice: Identity, Environment, and Intellectual Inquiry (Ladva) Fall 2019

Using Literature Reviews

  • In a literature review the author writes an overview of a topic from the point of view of the research that has been done.  The author analyzes the arguments in individual books and journal articles to build a narrative about the themes that have been articulated, areas which need further investigation, and questions which do not yet have a consensus among scholars.
  • For your project, a literature review can give you a headstart on figuring out which books and journal articles are the most relevant and of the highest quality.
  • See the resources below for literature reviews in specific academic disciplines.

Finding Literature Reviews

Adapting Literature Review Approaches

Elements of Literature Reviews

The function of a literature review is to provide an overview of a field related to your topic, show the importance and relevance of your topic within this larger body of work, and demonstrate mastery of the research area. Although a literature review is often fairly detailed and comprehensive, for this course you can take methods from the literature review and apply them to your final paperfor the course.


By situating your research question within the larger field of study you give it intellectual context. This context allows the reader to understand the relevance and importance of the work you are about to describe by connecting what is already know to the questions you have.

Existing research

It is a good strategy to start by reading literature reviews – the author has already screened and summarized previous work.  Read with an eye for evidences and confirmation of findings across studies, as well as bias, incongruity, conflicting conclusions, debates and gaps in knowledge. Locate original research articles to drill deeper. Use citing articles to keep your review current.  Focus on finding the strongest and most authoritative work rather than aiming for quantity.

Synthesizing ideas in the literature entails critical reading and analysis so that you can detect “underlying themes and see connections across studies”(Landrum, 2012, p. 92).  Themes can be based on important lines of inquiry within the topic along with their strengths and weaknesses. Strengths are characterized by information well-supported by evidences; weaknesses are exemplified by flawed arguments or experimental designs.  Another theme may be debates or controversies that persist; it is useful then to review the reasons giving rise to these conflicts.  Another line of inquiry may be new aspects uncovered through recent research. These underlying themes will form the framework of this section.

Conclusions and future directions

In this section, the most important points are summarized and integrated into the overall picture. Conclude with developing trends and suggest new directions based on gaps in current knowledge.


Landrum, R. E. (2012). Undergraduate writing in psychology: learning to tell the scientific story (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Web Resources on Writing Literature Reviews