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Literature Review: Home

Literature Review Overview

NCSU. (n.d.). “Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students.” [YouTube]. Retrieved from

What is a Literature Review?

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a systematic review of the published literature on a specific topic or research question.  The literature review is designed to analyze-- not just summarize-- scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.

University of Pittsburgh. (n.d.).  Retrieved from

Planning Your Literature Review

Planning Your Literature Review

Writing a literature review will take time to gather and analyze the research relevant to your topic, so it best to start early and give yourself enough time to gather and analyze your sources.  The process of writing a literature review usually covers the following steps:

  1. Define your Research question
  2. Plan your approach to your research and your review
  3. Search the Literature
  4. Analyze the material you’ve found
  5. Manage the results of your research
  6. Write your Review

Defining Your Research Question

One of the hardest parts of a literature review is developing a good research question.  You don't want a research question that is so broad it encompasses too many research areas and can't be reasonably answered. 

Defining your topic may require an initial review of literature to get a sense of the scope about your topic.   Select a topic of interest, and do a preliminary search to see what kinds of research is being done and what is trending in that area.  This will give you a better sense of the subject and help you focus your research question.

In specifying your topic or research question, you should think about setting appropriate limitations on the research you are seeking. Limiting, for example, by time, personnel, gender, age, location, nationality etc. results in a more focused and meaningful topic. 

Using an example from the Duke University Writing Studio, you may start with a general question: 

Why did the chicken cross the road?  This question is so general that you could be gathering relevant research for days. 

A more precise research question might be: 

What are some of the environmental factors that occurred in New York City between November and December 2017 that would cause a chicken to cross Amsterdam Avenue at 185th Street?  This research question is specific about a number of variables like time, geography, etc.

University of Pittsburgh. (n.d.).  Retrieved from

Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature:

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem
  • Relying exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data
  • Uncritically accepting another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis
  • Not describing the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review
  • Reporting isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and not considering contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature

USC. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Books on Literature Review

These books can be found on reserve at the Pollack Library:

Quick Tips

  • When working on a literature review, it's a good idea to save your research in a citation manager such as RefWorks, EndNote, or Zotero.
  • If a book or article is not available in the YU Libraries, it can be ordered through Interlibrary Loan.  You should never need to pay for your information.
  • The Dissertations & Theses Global database is a good place to start.  You will see what research has already been done on your topic.
  • For more detailed information, see below:

Public Services & Outreach Librarian

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Wendy Kosakoff
Pollack Library
Yeshiva University