Module 1: Types of Reviews

Literature Reviews

A literature review is an integrative summary of published research on a specific topic. The literature review seeks to what is already known about the topic, and sometimes, explicitly state what is not known, or not well understood.

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The following are the key characteristics of a literature review:

  • It contains a clear research question/problem that it is trying to answer.
  • It is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another.
  • It is organized into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory related to the research question.


A literature review may serve as a stand-alone piece or article such as this article by Francisco Javier Pérez Latre et al., on Social Networks[1]

However, more often a literature review is part of a larger research publication such as this example from Nia Contini et al., on Boating-related fatalities in the Northwest Territories[2]

Why Are Literature Reviews Important?

Literature reviews help authors and readers build their knowledge about a specific topic by synthesizing research on the subject. Literature reviews use published research to provide context to the topic and may expose debates within the field, gaps in the research, or provide a summary and analysis of research to date on the topic.

Key Takeaways

Literature reviews are not a summary of a couple of sources you found on your topic.  Your review should present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory found in the literature you reviewed.

  1. Citation: Pérez-Latre, F. J., Portilla, I., & Sánchez-Blanco, C. (2011). Social networks, media and audiences: A literature review. Communication & Society, (24)1, 63-74. *Communication & Society is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0.
  2. Citation Nia Contini, Audrey R. Giles, Gordon Giesbrecht & Tyrone Raddi (2021) The adaptation of the beyond cold water bootcamp course for Inuvialuit communities in Northwest Territories, Canada, International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 80:1, DOI: 10.1080/22423982.2021.1969744


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Advanced Research Skills: Conducting Literature and Systematic Reviews Copyright © 2021 by Kelly Dermody; Cecile Farnum; Daniel Jakubek; Jo-Anne Petropoulos; Jane Schmidt; and Reece Steinberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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