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Human Service Studies

A guide to basic information sources to assist students in Human Service Studies classes.

What is a Literature Review?

Definition

A lit review surveys, summarizes, and links information about a given topic. It's a synthesis of information relevant to your work.

Even Better

good lit review assesses this information and distills it for the reader.

Best

The best lit reviews tell a good story.

What Does a Lit Review Do?

  • Clarifies understanding of the field
  • Explains the rationale for your research
  • Places your research within a broader context
  • Evaluates the results of previous research
  • Defines key concepts and ideas
  • Identifies research in related areas that is generalizable or transferable to your topic
  • Identifies relevant methodological issues

Step 1: Define/Refine Topic

What's your current knowledge on the topic? 

Do you know what you don't know? 

This is an iterative process, meaning that you're going to come back to defining and refining your topic several times. But it's easier if you begin focused and with some general knowledge already.

Step 2: Determine Approach

Develop a set of questions to be applied to all of the articles.

How will you structure your lit review?

  • Chronologically?
  • Thematically?
  • NOT by author!

Step 3: Research Effectively

The literature you choose will inform and underpin everything you write, so plan your searches carefully!

This is where I come in. My contact information is on this page for you to use! Let me know what I can do to help.

Make Sure You're...

Using high quality sources

Using a variety of sources

Mining references for sources, looking for repetitions and reviews

Connecting the dots

When you're gathering information for your lit review, you won't use everything you collect. Only use the best sources. 

Step 4: Analyze and Evaluate

  1. What is your research question, and how does this material relate? 
  2. Are there foundational articles that must be included?
  3. How is the topic framed? 
  4. Are there fringe works that should not be included? 
  5. Is there a central debate that should be acknowledged and addressed?
  6. Where is the topic headed in the future?

Step 5: Read Critically

Ask Yourself"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." -Aristotle

  1. What is the source? 
  2. What is the claim? 
  3. What are the conclusions?

Look for:

Perspective and/or bias

Reasons for publishing

Significance of findings

Is the methodology valid?

Look for flawed reasoning or fallacies, alternative explanations, omissions.

How does it relate to other sources? And what does it mean?

Step 6: Take Great Notes and Be Organized

Highlighting is good for skimming.

Margin notes suggest your analysis and connections of the material.

Outlines may be useful for complex or important works.

Spreadsheets help track numerous sources across consistent variables or metrics.

Checklists help track progress and connections.

Summaries (written in your own words) help keep you on track and your sources straight.

Summarize Each Source to:

  • Recap the important and most relevant information in that source
  • Identify variables
  • Identify context/setting
  • Identify theories
  • Identify findings

Step 7: Draft Your Written Product

Integrate the Literature

  • Identify similarities and differences.
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates.
  • Reflect upon the importance of the body of literature for your research.
  • Evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant sources. 

A list of who said what is the starting point, not the final product. 

Tell the story, make your case.

Use your own words.

Write to your audience.

Make connections for your readers.

Cite accurately.

Introduction

  • Topic and importance
    • Use facts
    • History and/or background
  • Narrows topic
  • Talks about implications

Sections

  • They help with navigation.
  • Start by painting the big picture by theme.
  • Discuss aspects of the themes.
    • Use large or important works first.
    • Then discuss more detailed studies as needed and appropriate.
  • Provide assessment about quality
  • Gaps, new directions, information needed?

Step 8: Edit and Refine

Let it sit. 

Get outside opinions and assistance. 

Don't rush this step!

When you're ready, continue with the questions for revision below.

Questions for Revision of Writing Style

  • Does the writer use headings or paragraph breaks to show distinctions in the groups of studies under consideration?
  • Does the writer explain why certain groups of studies (or individual studies) are being reviewed by drawing a clear connection to his or her topic?
  • Does the writer make clear which of the studies described are most important?
  • Does the writer cover all important areas of research related to his or her topic?
  • Does the writer use transitions and summaries to move from one study or set of studies to the next?
  • By the end of the literature review, is it clear why the current research is necessary?

Questions for Revision about the Research

  • Does the review mentions flaws, gaps, or shortcomings of specific studies or groups of studies?
  • Does the author point out areas that have not yet been researched or have not yet been researched sufficiently?
  • Does the review demonstrate a change over time or recent developments that make the author’s research relevant now?
  • Does the author discuss research methods used to study this topic and/or related topics?
  • Does the author clearly state why his or her research is necessary?

Ask for Help!

Sign up for an appointment with the Writing Center

Get Lit: The Literature Review Video

Thank You!

Thank you to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs School of Public Affairs, Purdue University's Online Writing Lab, the Libraries at Virginia Commonwealth University, and our Queens Writing Center for much of the information on this page.