Literature Review in the Research Process

APA Lit Review Length: 5-7 pages (not including title and references page)

Format: Correct APA format throughout.

Please use the files in this folder to learn more about APA format. Title: Include an informative, interesting, provocative and/or creative title – but nothing too crazy! The Literature Review consists of an introduction, summary of scholarly sources, a discussion and evaluation of the sources (including disputes and disagreements), and a conclusion in which you put forth your own potential original research ideas, and also discuss strengths and weaknesses of the literature you reviewed.

A minimum of five scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals is required for this assignment. All articles MUST be scholarly research articles. You can cite books, including your textbook, but these must be in addition to your 5 articles. Don’t cite blogs, websites, opinions, etc.

The Literature Review in the Research Process

“Literature” refers to the scholarly writing, published (original) research study results, and other important analyses on a particular aspect of a topic. So you are not going to write an essay on a Shakespearean play or some other literary text. The purpose of a literature review is fourfold: The first is to summarize and assess the state of existing knowledge on your narrowed topic.

What knowledge exists and is generally accepted with regard to your topic? Are there important differences or disagreements among scholars? Are there significant problems or limitations with any of the research studies? Which research methods were employed in the various research studies, which were not, and with what consequences? What questions remain unanswered? What aspects or approaches seem relatively unexplored? Through the process of reviewing existing knowledge you will also develop a better understanding of your topic.

Required Elements of the Literature Review (do not use these subtitles in your paper, they’re just to help you conceptualize the format and content of your paper) Introduction: The introduction presents your narrowed topic or area of inquiry, usually through its significance and/or an overview statement of how researchers have studied this narrowed area. You will want to define the topic, and give a broad overview of the current state of research findings surrounding this topic. Do not forget to cite sources here – you did not come to the table with this knowledge already in your brain!


The summary-of-sources section presents the research, knowledge, and analysis that the literature offers concerning your narrowed research topic. This section should be organized according to the issues or aspects studied, the accepted interpretations or theories, the disputed claims, and any unanswered questions. Do not simply summarize each source in separate paragraphs.

The paragraphs in your summary should focus on specific issues, not necessarily on individual authors. For example, if you were studying prison reform, one paragraph might present what three scholars have reported regarding education programs in prison, even though one or more of those authors might show up again in another paragraph on visitation rights. If a paragraph happens to focus on only one author or article, make sure this is for a good reason, for example, the article represents the authoritative discussion of a particular issue; in such a case, the content of that paragraph should be limited to the issue and not turn into a general summary of the article.

Discussion and Evaluation:

This section is your discussion and evaluation of the articles from your summary section and not your discussion of the issues themselves. Instead, you are interpreting and evaluating the knowledge presented in the summary section in order to raise questions for further research.

You may discuss and evaluate the significance of various conclusions and arguments, the completeness of individual studies, the research methods used, substantial areas of disagreement, debates over definitions of terms, and/or the consistency of the results with each other. As you present your evaluation, do so cautiously with thorough analysis and explanation.

Challenging the results of a professional study with nothing but one isolated observation or opinion will reveal your naiveté more than any real weakness in the study. Share your evaluation without using the first person (I, me, my, mine); doing so will shift the reader’s focus away from the subject and onto you, the writer.

As you discuss and evaluate the knowledge and issues with regard to your narrowed topic, raise questions for further study along the way. Refer directly to all of the articles from your Summary section. Do not introduce new articles in this section that you have not already covered in the Summary section.

Please note that even though you may take issue with aspects of the research and findings in your sources, it is very rare for the discussion to include a complete dismissal of any one source. If you read a source and find that it has nothing or little of value to offer on your topic, then do not include it in the literature review. By choosing to include sources in your literature review, you imply that you have already judged them to offer something that is worth consideration.

Further, it is important to distinguish between evaluation for analytical purposes and evaluation for entertainment purposes. While this kind of essay is called a literature “review,” it is not a review in the sense of a movie review. You should not be concerned with whether the material you have reviewed is entertaining. The purpose, rather, is to demonstrate how considering various arguments and approaches improves our understanding and engages us in new questions.


The conclusion synthesizes the knowledge confirmed through the discussion and evaluation section while identifying areas for further research. After reviewing the literature, what do we know? What don’t we know? There should be an apparent connection between the new areas of inquiry and the summary of existing knowledge. Bring your conclusion to a close by identifying and discussing the significance of your topic.

References and In-text Citations:

An APA style reference page, with all of the sources referred to in your literature review, must be included at the end of your essay. All quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing must also follow APA guidelines. In your presentation and analysis of sources, do not use direct quotes; excessive quoting can turn your literature review into a cacophony of different voices that frustrates the reader’s ability to find cohesion between the distinct ideas. You are always better off paraphrasing or summarizing, which you must do carefully to avoid plagiarism. You must use at least 5 references from peer-reviewed, scientific journals.


The audience for a literature review is a somewhat hypothetical body of fellow researchers. These are people interested in the same issues and who are usually working in a similar field. Thus, you are expected to use vocabulary appropriate to your subject matter. For example, the term “reentry” has a specific set of meanings and connotations within criminal justice. If you choose to write about this subject, then you are expected to familiarize yourself with that word and others and use them accurately in your explanations and analysis. Note and look up commonly used terms as you run across them in your reading. Consider how they are used in context and with what connotations.

Acquiring the vocabulary of the discussion is an important part of being able to express yourself with clarity and precision. Showing that you are conversant with the vocabulary and concepts common to the discussion is also an important part of establishing your authority to analyze the contributions of others.

Style and Tone:

In tone, consider that you are writing for a body of professionals. They want to see that you are reasonably objective. Betraying a strong emotional investment may cast doubt on your credibility. Thus, your tone and style should emphasize that you are interested in furthering understanding rather than establishing that you are right or winning an argument.

Moreover, the focus in this essay is not on you; it is on the texts and topic you are analyzing and synthesizing. Therefore, do not use the first person (I, me, my, mine). Nor should you find occasion to use the second person (you, your, you’re), for example, to address the reader directly as in, “Having considered the many facets of this problem, you may wonder how it can possibly be solved.” Such language is overly informal for this kind of academic writing and shifts the focus to the reader and away from the topic of your essay.

A possible revision could be: “A consideration of the many facets of this problem clearly indicates that solving it will be difficult.” Paragraph form: Each of your body paragraphs should have a topic sentence. Pay attention to the transitions between and within paragraphs. Paragraphs in academic writing are (usually) between 1/3 – 3/4 of a page long. If they are shorter than that, you may not be adequately developing your ideas.

If the ideas or information do not deserve to be developed further, then you might consider combining the content of the short paragraph with another paragraph; in such a case, you would need to revise the topic sentence so that it covers the combined materials. If a paragraph is much longer than 3/4 of a page, you risk losing the attention of your reader as well as losing focus in your paragraph itself. Of course, there are exceptions to the 1/3-3/4 page guideline.