A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
How is a literature review different from an academic research paper?
The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper will contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.
Characteristics of a Good Literature Review
Characteristics of a Poor Literature Review
Synthesizes available research
Basically an annotated bibliography
Critical evaluation of sources
Analysis confined to describing the work
Appropriated breadth and depth
Narrow and Shallow
Clear and concise
Confusing and Longwinded
Uses rigorous and consistent methods
Why do we cite?
There are many reasons why it is so important to cite the sources you use in your research.
You demonstrate to your reader you've done proper research by listing sources you used to get your information.
You avoid plagiarism by quoting the words and ideas of other scholars.
You are being a responsible scholar by giving credit to other researchers and acknowledging their ideas.
You allow your reader to find the sources you used by citing them accurately in your paper by using in-text citations or footnotes in combination with a bibliography or works cited list.
Citing Your Sources
There are many different "styles" you may choose from when citing sources. Your professor will probably tell you which "style" is preferred for your class. MLA (Modern Language Association), Chicago, and APA (American Psychological Association) are three of the most commonly used citation styles, but there are hundreds.
Recent editions of style manuals, which include detailed information and examples, are available at the Services & Information Desk at the University Library. If you need help on your research project, please contact a subject specialist librarian.
We have the Chicago Manual of Style available online as well as in print. For quick reference, there are many online sources. One of the best is the Purdue OWL. But be aware that the manual is always the most authoritative source.