SMHS Literature Review

Learn to write a systematic review of literature.


A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to your research topic or thesis statement. It should provide a theoretical summary or critical evaluation of these scholarly works.

You will need to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the research that you’ve found on your topic. A literature review should give context to your thesis and, if possible, reveal any gaps in the current literature. 

  • A comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the principal research about the topic being studied.
  • May consist of simply a summary of key sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary (a recap of the important information of the source) and synthesis (a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem), often within specific conceptual categories. 
  • To demonstrate to your readers what you know about your topic.


  • To bring your readers up-to-date and fill them in on what has been published on your topic.

  • To allow you a better understanding of your topic.

  • Provides thorough knowledge of previous studies.

  • Introduce seminal works.

  • Help focus one’s own research topic.

  • Identify a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems.

  • Indicate potential directions for future research.

  • Suggest previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.

  • Identify gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches.

  • Avoids replication of mistakes.

  • Help the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.

  • Determine whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature. 

  • Test assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

  • An Essay 
  • A Research paper
  • An unconnected summary of the studies on your topic