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Literature Reviews

All about literature reviews and how to find them.

Literature Reviews

A literature review (or review of the literature) critically evaluates and synthesizes the significant works (books, scholarly articles, dissertations, etc.) published on a particular issue, area of research, or theory.

Literature reviews often:

  • Provide background and a chronological/historical perspective.
  • Identify deficiencies and areas that need additional research.
  • Clarify whether there is consensus in existing research.
  • Indicate how a particular work adds to currently published research.

If you have a literature review assignment, first determine whether you need to find an existing review or write one of your own. This guide will help you find existing reviews. For more information about how to write a review, see the University of North Carolina Literature Reviews guide.

Types of Literature Reviews

There are two main types of literature reviews ranging from selective to comprehensive.

  • A stand-alone review, such as a journal article that consists only of a review of the literature.

            Example 1  |  Example 2

  • A review that is part of a larger work, such as a section within a journal article or book.

            Example 1  |  Example 2

For more information, see the video below from East Carolina University Joyner Library.

Finding Literature Reviews

Your strategy for finding literature reviews may vary based on the type of review you are hoping to find. If you are not sure which database to use, try exploring Guides by subject or ask a librarian.

Stand-Alone Reviews

Some databases have built-in options to help you find literature reviews. To find stand-alone reviews, try these steps:

  1. On the advanced search page within your selected database, look for a limiter labeled document type, publication type, or methodology.
  2. Then select specific terms such as literature review, meta-analysis, and/or systematic review. These may be in a drop-down menu or scroll-through list. Select the more general term "review" only if the specific terms are not available. If the database doesn't have this kind of limiter, try a different database or skip to the Additional Tips section below.
  3. Add your keyword(s) and continue with your search.

Reviews in Larger Works

The majority of scholarly journal articles include a literature review of some sort. To find these:

  1. Use QuickSearch or a subject-specific database to search for articles on your topic.
  2. Limit your search to articles in scholarly or peer-reviewed sources.
  3. Choose an article and view the full text.
  4. Look for a literature review within the article; it may or may not be labeled.

Dissertations typically include extensive literature reviews. Search for these in the Dissertations & Theses database.

Additional Tips

  • In QuickSearch or your subject-specific resource, search for the phrase "literature review" or "review of the literature" along with your keyword(s). You might also try "systematic review" or "meta-analysis".
  • Get more results by selecting the option (available in some databases) to search within the text of articles.
  • Try looking for the words "literature" and "review" near each other (proximity searching). To learn how to do this, refer to the help section within the database you're using.
  • If you're having trouble, ask a librarian.


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Guide Owner

This guide is maintained by Ruth Terry.

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