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Sociology: Literature Review

Literature review tips


The goal of the literature review is to show that you understand the 'bigger picture' and can put your research and recommendations in context of others working in the field.

Try to find the most recent articles that deal with your topic; many of them will summarize the prior literature in the area, saving you valuable time.

Search for key authors who have contributed to the topic. It can be overwhelming. Just find the literature mist relevant to your topic. You can't find/use everything.


Use current sources - include chronological, thematic, methodological.


Use quotes sparingly and keep your own voice.


Remember to attiribute even if you paraphraze.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an explanation of what has been published on a subject by recognized researchers. Occasionally you will be asked to write one as a separate assignment (sometimes in the form of an annotated bibliography, but more often it is part of the introduction to a research report, essay, thesis, or dissertation.

Critical literature reviews help to write your literature review more effectively:

A literature review must do these things:
a. be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
b. synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
c. identify areas of controversy in the literature
d. formulate questions that need further research

Before writing literature review ask yourself questions like these:

1. What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my review of literature helps to define?  

2. What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research (e.g. on the effectiveness of a new procedure)? qualitative research (e.g. studies )?

3. What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)? What discipline am I working in (e.g., psychology, organizational behavior, education)?

 4. How good was my information seeking? Has my search been wide enough to ensure I've found all the relevant material? Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material? Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper?

5. Have I critically analyzed the literature I use? Do I follow through a set of concepts and questions, comparing items to each other in the ways they deal with them? Instead of just listing and summarizing items, do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?

6. Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?

7. Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and useful?


Tips on writing a literature review (Hart, 1998).

Subject Guide

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Jayati Chaudhuri
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