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How to do a Literature Review: Getting Started

This guide explains and shows a range of resources and steps for developing, managing, and completing literature reviews.

What is a Literature Review?




Types of Literature Reviews

Different projects involve different kinds of literature reviews with different kinds and amounts of work. And, of course, the "end products" vary.

  • Honors paper
  • Capstone project
  • Research Study
  • Senior thesis
  • Masters thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • Research article
  • Grant proposal
  • Evidence based practice

Finding Examples

Find and use models for the product you want to end up with.


At Norfolk State:

  1. Search ProQuest Dissertations & Theses @ Norfolk State University 

  2. Browse NSU's Dissertations and Theses located in the Harrison B. Wilson Archives.

  3. Use the WorldCat database, choose "Thesis/dissertation" as a type of content under "Subtype limits."



Example: PubMed: Do a topical search. Then filter your results to Review and/or Systematic Reviews using the choices on the left side of the screen.
Example: PsyNET (EBSCO): Type search terms, then choose Literature review, Systematic review, or Meta-analysis from the Methodology box on the page. Then run search.


A Literature Review is NOT

Not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize each article that you have reviewed.  A lit review goes beyond basic summarizing to focus on the critical analysis of the reviewed works and their relationship to your research question.

Not a research paper where you select resources to support one side of an issue versus another.  A lit review should explain and consider all sides of an argument in order to avoid bias, and areas of agreement and disagreement should be highlighted.


Importance of a Literature Review

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Helps focus your own research questions or problems
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
  • Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches.
  • Indicates potential directions for future research.