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Literature Review Development Support

Guide developed to support students (mainly graduate education program students) in their research-based writing

Basic Definition

What is a Literature Review?

There is not a universally agreed upon definition of a literature review because there are different types of literature reviews and they can serve different purposes. See the rest of the content on this page for more information.

One Definition:

A literature review is a piece of academic writing demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the academic literature on a specific topic placed in context. A literature review also includes a critical evaluation of the material; this is why it is called a literature review rather than a literature report. It is a process of reviewing the literature, as well as a form of writing. (University of Edinburgh, Institute for Academic Development, 2022, "The Basics" section)

Lit. Review Purposes - Visual

Purposes of Literature Reviews

The diagram below presents six main purposes of literature reviews in research writing.

Circle Diagram showing 6 key tasks for literature reviews

Diagram source:
Steeves, K., Williams, J., & Clarke, S. (n.d.). Writing a literature review: introduction. Retrieved October 31, 2022, from
The Steeves et al. diagram was based on information found in Kamler, B. & Thomson, P. (2006). Helping doctoral students write: Pedagogies for supervision. Routledge. 

Types of Literature Reviews

Thematic or Integrative Literature Reviews

This type of review provides an analysis, critical assessment, and synthesis of the literature on an identified topic with the purpose of providing a new perspective or model for thinking about that topic.


Historical or Chronological Literature Review

The reviewed literature is presented in chronological order to demonstrate the development and change in a discipline's scholarship over time.


Methodological Literature Review

This type of review emphasizes the methods and processes used in the studies of a subject area or field, rather than focusing on results.


Systematic Literature Review

A systematic review is a rigorous form of literature research that requires specific reporting and documentation of the searching, screening, and reviewing processes. Because the number of articles or other works reviewed is often more than 100, this type of review is often conducted by a team or researchers rather than one person.

The goal of a systematic literature review is to identify and provide an overview of all the literature on a topic which meets the criteria determined by the researchers. Researchers' careful summarizing and analyses of a large amount of literature provides significant baseline knowledge or evidence upon which to plan their own original research study.


Theoretical Literature Review

This type of review covers the theories that already exist in relation to a topic and explores the relationships between them. It also assesses the amount of investigation that specific theories have undergone with a goal of generating new, testable hypotheses.

Researchers can use a theoretical review to argue that existing theories are inadequate for studying new problems in a specific research area and to propose the development of new theories or frameworks.


Argumentative Literature Review

For this type of review, the researcher analyzes relevant literature to support or refute an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem that exists in the scholarly work associated with a discipline.


Literature Review Examples

Literature Reviews within Theses & Dissertations

Literature Reviews within or as Scholarly Journal Articles

Process versus Product

Reviewing Literature (Process) Compared to Writing a Literature Review (Product)

  • All research projects involve finding, reading, reviewing, analyzing, and evaluating literature and information in other forms. This process can be called "reviewing literature" or doing a "literature review."
  • When you are writing a graduate research project (GRP) or thesis, you will be integrating researched information into multiple sections of the paper, not just in the section or chapter labeled as the Literature Review.
  • In a graduate research project or thesis, the literature review is usually Chapter 2 of your paper.
  • Published journal articles include literature reviews. Sometimes they are labeled as Literature Reviews; often they are not. The structure and positioning of literature reviews in scholarly journal articles can be different from those in theses and other multi-chapter publications.

What is a Lit Review Quiz?

Access the quiz for this module:

What is a Literature Review? Module Quiz


Information about the different types of literature reviews was adapted from

USC Libraries. (2022, November 22). The literature review.