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NR 3010: Research Methods - Fisher & Kutner (Fall 2023)

The Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

  • a synthesis of the literature written on a specific well-defined topic, predominantly academic and scholarly in nature
  • literature review connotes a thorough, exhaustive understanding of the literature on a particular topic
  • By identifying, reading, and synthesizing the information available on your topic, you should be able to identify trends and developments over time on your topic, and the general state of knowledge in your subject area.
  • A thorough review of the literature allows you to place your own research in a greater scholarly context and assess its importance/ significance as a piece of scholarship.

Five steps to completing a successful literature review:

1. Identify and cogently define your topic in one or two sentences.  Think about your topic in terms of keywords and synonyms for those keywords.

2. Identify and use the relevant databases that the library makes available to you to help you locate references to the scholarly body of literature on your topic.

3. Locate and retrieve the materials.  Many journal articles are available electronically through the library's electronic journal collections.

4. Read the material.

5.  Synthesize the material you've read into a well-written literature review by discussing the literature in terms of the body of knowledge available on the topic, its evolution, trends, seminal works, and generalizations.  Demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the research and scholarship that has already been done on the topic you have chosen.

Remember that completing a thorough literature review is very time consuming, and allow yourself ample time to focus on it.

UVM Undergrad Theses - Literature Review Examples

Biophysically focused theses

Helena Murray (2017) – Forestry (short lit review example)
Note: This thesis was published in a peer-reviewed journal, so the literature review (which is part of the introduction) is extremely short!

Stand Dynamics and Disturbance History of Champlain Valley Clayplain Forests

Kristen Switzer (2018) – Environmental Sciences (long lit review example)
Relationships between Climate and Growth of Quercus rubra, Pinus strobus, and Tsuga canadensis in Northern Vermont

ENVS theses (long lit review exampies)

Isabel Lisle (2020)  UVM’s Roadmap to Zero Waste: Effective Strategies for Enhancing Zero Waste Management Goals at the University of Vermont

Sheridan Plummer (2019)  Yes, You Can Eat That: How Communities that Forage in Vermont Interact with Invasive Species


What a Literature Review is NOT

It is important to understand what a Literature Review is NOT.  A Literature Review:

  • is NOT an Annotated Bibliography.  An Annotated Bibliography is very different and is a list of sources that includes a simple summary or other explanation about each source.
  • is NOT a simple descriptive summary of each source.
  • is NOT a Literary Review.  A Literary Review discusses and analyzes in detail a literary work such as a novel, play, or short story.