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How to Conduct a Literature Review: A Guide for Graduate Students

This is a guide to help graduate students successfully find, evaluate, and manage resources for a literature review.

Traditional or Narrative Reviews

A narrative or traditional literature review is a comprehensive, critical and objective analysis of the current knowledge on a topic. They are an essential part of the research process and help to establish a theoretical framework and focus or context for your research. A literature review will help you to identify patterns and trends in the literature so that you can identify gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge. This should lead you to a sufficiently focused research question that justifies your research.

Onwuegbuzie and Frels (pp 24-25, 2016) define four common types of narrative reviews:

  1. General literature review that provides a review of the most important and critical aspects of the current knowledge of the topic. This general literature review forms the introduction to a thesis or dissertation and must be defined by the research objective, underlying hypothesis or problem or the reviewer's argumentative thesis.
  2. Historical literature review which focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
  3. Methodological literature review where the research methods and design are described. These methodological reviews outline the strengths and weaknesses of the methods used and provide future direction
  4. Theoretical literature review which examines how theory shapes or frames research

References and additional resources

Machi, Lawrence A. & Brenda T. McEvoy (2016), The Literature Review: Six steps to success. 3rd edition.; Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Onwuegbuzie, A. J. & Frels, R. (2016) 7 steps to a comprehensive literature review: A multimodal & cultural approach. London: Sage Publications.