What is a Literature Review?
A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings & other resources that are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory & provides context for a master's thesis or Ph.D. dissertation by identifying past research.
Research tells a story, & the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a thesis or dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives, but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward.
Purpose of a Literature Review
A literature review:
- Helps you to discover the research that has been conducted on a topic already & identifies gaps in current knowledge
- Increases the breadth of your knowledge in your area of research
- Helps you identify seminal works in your area
- Allows you to provide the intellectual context for your work & position your research with other, related research
- Provides you with opposing viewpoints
- Helps you to discover research methods that may be applicable to your work
The Process of Writing a Literature Review
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of literature review is appropriate for my research question?
How much literature should I use? There is no standard answer to this question, but make sure that you have enough literature to tell your story. You may find examples in the workshop for graduate students from the Rackham Graduate School & English Language Institute. Discuss this question with your advisor & peers.
How will I find all appropriate information to inform my research? You should consult multiple databases & resources appropriate for your research area so that you can have a comprehensive view of the research that has already been done in your area. Browse the research guides for your department or subject for databases & other resources recommended for your specific area. Also consult with your liaison librarian at the Taubman Health Sciences Library to determine the resources you should investigate.
How will I evaluate the literature to include trustworthy information and eliminate unnecessary or untrustworthy information?
How should I organize my literature? What citation management program is best for me? Citation management software, such as EndNote, Mendeley, RefWorks, & Zotero, helps you collect & organize references & easily insert citations & format citations & bibliographies in thousands of styles in your Word document.
To choose the program that's right for you, consider which one works best with your literature search & writing process. This guide compares different types of citation management software & provides tutorials for each type. You may also ask your liaison librarian for advice.
How do I ensure academic integrity (i.e., avoid plagiarism)? Familiarize yourself with different types of intentional and unintentional plagiarism and learn about the University's standards for academic integrity. Start with this guide. Remember, citation management tools can help you avoid unintentional plagiarism by making it easy to collect & cite sources.
What Kind of Literature Should You Choose?
Different types of information sources may be critical for particular disciplines. Please contact your liaison librarian for additional guidance on information sources appropriate to your research. In addition to books, reference resources, journal articles, & datasets, these sources may be helpful.
The U.S. Government Printing Office produces a great deal of information that is useful to researchers. Congress, the Supreme Court, the Office of the President & federal agencies are rich sources of policy information, legislation, & historical records. The University of Michigan's Clark Library is a federal depository library. Librarians there can help you find documents and records created by the federal government, as well as state & local laws & legislation. International government information can be found in United Nations documents, available in print & online since 1946. Also check the Grey Literature guide for more resources.
Statistics reported by government or private sources can be useful, but can also be difficult to find. Use the Health Statistics research guide for more information on how to search & for sources.
Theses & Dissertations: Dissertations on topics similar to yours may contain information & technical details not published in other forms. You may also be inspired by how others approach similar topics.
Conference proceedings: For many fields, researchers present their most up-to-date research results at professional conferences. These results will later be published in conference proceedings, abstracts, or preprints.
Other unpublished information: For all of the above and resources, including clinical & pharmaceutical research, FDA reports, & more, visit the Grey Literature research guide.