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How to do a Literature Review

Anne Bradley

Anne Bradley's picture
Anne Bradley
Office: Library 2504
Phone: 916-278-4350


Many graduate students have a pretty good idea of the topics they wish to explore when they begin their research methodology class in preparation for writing their graduate thesis, dissertation or graduate project at CSUS.  Less clear is what is required to do a comprehensive literature review in their field of study, which makes up Chapter Two of the thesis.

In the simplest terms, a review of the literature is a carefully considered synthesis of what is known and not known about a topic and related areas by the scholars in a particular field of study.  Emphasis is on scholarly resources, (professional or peer reviewed journals and books), rather than what appears in the popular press.  It is often described as a bibliographic essay, and should identify established ideas and knowledge.  It must also focus on the particular problem or issue chosen for the thesis topic and identify the various strengths and weaknesses of the studies read.  It is not just an annotated bibliography. It should analyze, contrast and compare the ideas reflected in the sources, not just summarize them.

The process of completing a literature review will expand the researcher’s knowledge about the topic and help to identify areas of controversy and fruitful areas for possible research.  Through it, the major scholars in the field can be identified, and articles, books, government documents and online resources that will prove most useful to the research project can be located.  Also important is to manage the bibliographic records of items you find so you can correctly cite them in your thesis.  The campus has a site license for the EndNote software and provides it free to CSUS students, faculty and staff.  See the link below.

It is important therefore to do preliminary research before the actual thesis statement is discussed and approved by a thesis advisor.  It is also important to determine which style manual is required.   A list of useful Writing Guides can be found under Library Guides by Subject on the home page.  The Office of Graduate Studies has forms linked to their web site (see below).   Some academic departments have additional guidelines for their graduate students and provide workshops and forms to help get started.