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General guide for Humanities; also includes resources for Asian Studies, American Studies, Creative Arts, European Studies, Jewish Studies, Liberal Studies, Middle East Studies, and Religious Studies.

Finding Literature Review Sources and Examples

When writing literature reviews, it is important to remember that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Many, if not most, of the peer-reviewed articles you are reading include literature reviews. Use them as practical examples for structuring your own!

Tips on finding literature reviews:

  1. Use specialized databases like Annual Reviews. This database includes review articles, summaries, evaluations and bibliographies of research literature in 46 disciplines, including the Social Sciences.
  2. Search databases like Social Sciences Full Text. Use "review" for publication type, and/or "review article" for document type to narrow down your searches.
  3. For systematic reviews, utilize databases like Annual Reviews, CINAHL Complete, Cochrane Library and PubMed.

Literature Review Video Tutorials

What is a Literature Review?

Generally speaking, a literature review (lit review for short) is an analysis of existing scholarly publications that directly relate to your research question.

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Provide background information on a topic
  • Give a sense of the overall status of the research conducted
  • Inform on the historical and current argument
  • Establish connections between previous research and your own

It may sometimes be more helpful to think about what a literature review is not:

  • Summary
  • Listing of vaguely or entirely unrelated resources
  • Listing of every piece of research ever conducted on a topic
  • Criticism of what has been already written


Different Types of Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews are most often included in research papers but they can also be stand-alone works. Lit reviews types vary, so it is important for you to know and follow the guidelines for your assignment.

Here are the most common types of Literature Reviews:

  • Traditional (narrative)
  • Systematic
  • Meta analysis
  • Meta synthesis

Summary of Steps Involved in Writing Literature Reviews

  1. Decide on what your lit review should look like by asking questions as such:
    1. Are there any specific assignment instructions I need to consider upfront?
    2. How many studies should I include?
    3. What time span should I cover?
    4. How comprehensive should I make the lit review without overloading my audience?
  2. Select research materials:
    1. Think about the extent of your topic:
      1. Even though you are taking a social work class, does your topic also fall within other subject areas, e.g. health professions, psychology, education, justice studies?
    2. Consult with your professor about important authors and seminal works
    3. Find books on your topic for a broader approach and better overall understanding of your area of research (
    4. Use the online research guide for Social Work ( to find links to subject-specific databases:
      1. Get started with a comprehensive databases like Academic Search Complete
      2. Next, use subject-specific databases like Social Sciences Full Text
      3. Look at Proquest Dissertation and Theses to find MA and PhD publications
  3. Conduct your research:
    1. Keep track of your searches from the start
      1. Use Ref Works, a research journal, note cards, or any other system that works well for you
    2. Consult with your instructor about experts and seminal works to get you started
    3. Read the abstract of every article you find
      1. Ensure that the article is really on your topic
      2. Saves time
    4. Use bibliographies in books and references in articles to find more resources
  4. Write your literature review, with the following in mind:
    1. Who is/are the author(s)?
      1. Are they experts on the subject?
      2. Has the study you are looking at been cited/analyzed by others?
    2. What research question(s) were asked? Why?
    3. What research methods were used?
      1. Look at the individual parts of the study: its own lit review, samples, variables, etc.
    4. What were the results and what conclusions did the authors draw?
    5. Dig deeper by asking questions such as:
      1. Who funded the research and why?
      2. Was the research approach comprehensive or did it leave you with questions or did it leave you with questions?

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Write Literature Reviews


This extensive, step-by-step guide by the University of Toledo Libraries goes beyond the summary outlined in Box #2, and includes charts and printable checklists. Click here (or on the image above) to access the guide.


More good guides to check out:

Organizing & Writing a Literature Review, University of West Florida A helpful guide by the University of West Florida Library that offers step-by-step instructions on how to organize and write a literature review.

Literature Review Handout, University of Chapel Hill Writing Center A printable/downloadable handout that explains what literature reviews are. It offers detailed insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.