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Literature Reviews

Information and resources on how to conduct different types of literature reviews in all disciplines.

Selecting a Review Type

You'll want to think about the kind of review you are doing. Is it a selective or comprehensive review? Is the review part of a larger work or a stand-alone work?

For example, if you're writing the Literature Review section of a journal article, that's a selective review which is part of a larger work. Alternatively, if you're writing a review article, that's a comprehensive review which is a stand-alone work. Thinking about this will help you develop the scope of the review.

Defining the Scope of Your Review

This exercise will help define the scope of your Literature Review, setting the boundaries for which literature to include and which to exclude.


  • Which populations to investigate — this can include gender, age, socio-economic status, race, geographic location, etc., if the research area includes humans.
  • What years to include — if researching the legalization of medicinal cannabis, you might only look at the previous 20 years; but if researching dolphin mating practices, you might extend many more decades.
  • Which subject areas — if researching artificial intelligence, subject areas could be computer science, robotics, or health sciences
  • How many sources — a selective review for a class assignment might only need ten, while a comprehensive review for a dissertation might include hundreds. There is no one right answer.
  • There will be many other considerations that are more specific to your topic. 

Most databases will allow you to limit years and subject areas, so look for those tools while searching. See the Searching Tips tab for information on how use these tools.

Four Common Types of Reviews


  • Often used as a generic term to describe any type of review
  • More precise definition: Published materials that provide an examination of published literature. Can cover wide range of subjects at various levels of comprehensiveness.
  • Identifies gaps in research, explains importance of topic, hypothesizes future work, etc.
  • Usually written as part of a larger work like a journal article or dissertation


  • Conducted to address broad research questions with the goal of understanding the extent of research that has been conducted.
  • Provides a preliminary assessment of the potential size and scope of available research literature. It aims to identify the nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research) 
  • Doesn't assess the quality of the literature gathered (i.e. presence of literature on a topic shouldn’t be conflated w/ the quality of that literature)
  • "Preparing scoping reviews for publication using methodological guides and reporting standards" is a great article to read on Scoping Reviews


  • Common in the health sciences (Taubman Health Sciences Library guide to Systematic Reviews)
  • Goal: collect all literature that meets specific criteria (methodology, population, treatment, etc.) and then appraise its quality and synthesize it
  • Follows strict protocol for literature collection, appraisal and synthesis
  • Typically performed by research teams 
  • Takes 12-18 months to complete
  • Often written as a stand alone work


  • Goes one step further than a systematic review by statistically combining the results of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results.