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ESFR 5013

The Research Conversation

You know how we never really "hang up" on text messages? We can come back and continue a conversation hours, or even days, later.

Research is like that.

Research is an ongoing, never-ending conversation, and the point of the literature review is to bring readers up to speed on that conversation. You don't want to overwhelm, nor do you want to bore. It should provide enough of a background and overview to ensure that your new research will make sense.

It's also important to realize where we are in the conversation. Unless it is a seminal work in the field, you'll want to stick to the last 5 -10 years. No one at the party enjoys talking to the person who's stuck in the past!

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What is a literature review?

A literature review DOES:

  • discuss the work of others
  • describe, in a narrative fashion, the major developments that relate to your research question
  • evaluate other researchers' methods and findings
  • identify any gaps in their research
  • indicate how your research is going to be different in some way


A literature review DOESN'T:

  • simply list all the resources that you consult in developing your research (that would be a Works Cited or Works Consulted page)
  • simply list resources with a few factual, non-evaluative notes about what is in each work (that would be an Annotated Bibliography)
  • try to discuss every bit of research that has ever been done relating to your topic (that would be far too big of a task)
  • try to prove your hypothesis or explain your evidence/findings (that comes later, in the main part of your research paper)


The literature review should be organized in some logical fashion: 

  • chronologically
  • thematically
  • methodologically -- i.e., the research methods (case studies? interviews? clinical trials?) or evaluative techniques used by different researchers


Think of your literature more like a milkshake instead of a sundae. Sundaes are layered, whereas shakes take those same layers and mix them together to make something new. Be careful not to simply layer your sources, but to show comprehension by organizing those authors' thoughts and ideas in a combined, logical fashion for you reader.

The Literature Review

This slide show* does a nice job of breaking down the literature review components. It includes 10 questions to ask/answer as well as traps to avoid.

For more information on how to write a literature review, see the literature review guide developed by the UCO library for the RCSA grant writing opportunity.