Sociology Research Guide

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  • Literature Reviews

What is a Lit Review?

How to write a lit review.

  • Video Introduction to Lit Reviews

Main Objectives

Examples of lit reviews, additional resources.

  • SOC1: Morales (Cultural Artifact)
  • SOC4: Ie (Literature Review)

What is a literature review?

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  • Either a complete piece of writing unto itself or a section of a larger piece of writing like a book or article
  • A thorough and critical look at the information and perspectives that other experts and scholars have written about a specific topic
  • A way to give historical perspective on an issue and show how other researchers have addressed a problem
  • An analysis of sources based on your own perspective on the topic
  • Based on the most pertinent and significant research conducted in the field, both new and old

Red X

  • A descriptive list or collection of summaries of other research without synthesis or analysis
  • An annotated bibliography
  • A literary review (a brief, critical discussion about the merits and weaknesses of a literary work such as a play, novel or a book of poems)
  • Exhaustive; the objective is not to list as many relevant books, articles, reports as possible
  • To convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic
  • To explain what the strengths and weaknesses of that knowledge and those ideas might be
  • To learn how others have defined and measured key concepts    
  • To keep the writer/reader up to date with current developments and historical trends in a particular field or discipline
  • To establish context for the argument explored in the rest of a paper
  • To provide evidence that may be used to support your own findings
  • To demonstrate your understanding and your ability to critically evaluate research in the field
  • To suggest previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, and quantitative and qualitative strategies
  • To identify gaps in previous studies and flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches in order to avoid replication of mistakes
  • To help the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research
  • To suggest unexplored populations
  • To determine whether past studies agree or disagree and identify strengths and weaknesses on both sides of a controversy in the literature


  • Choose a topic that is interesting to you; this makes the research and writing process more enjoyable and rewarding.
  • For a literature review, you'll also want to make sure that the topic you choose is one that other researchers have explored before so that you'll be able to find plenty of relevant sources to review.

magnifying glass held up to cat

  • Your research doesn't need to be exhaustive. Pay careful attention to bibliographies. Focus on the most frequently cited literature about your topic and literature from the best known scholars in your field. Ask yourself: "Does this source make a significant contribution to the understanding of my topic?"
  • Reading other literature reviews from your field may help you get ideas for themes to look for in your research. You can usually find some of these through the library databases by adding literature review as a keyword in your search.
  • Start with the most recent publications and work backwards. This way, you ensure you have the most current information, and it becomes easier to identify the most seminal earlier sources by reviewing the material that current researchers are citing.

Labeled "Scientific Cat Types" with cartoon of cat on back ("Nugget"), cat lying iwth legs tucked underneath ("loaf") and cat sprawled out ("noodle")

The organization of your lit review should be determined based on what you'd like to highlight from your research. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Chronology : Discuss literature in chronological order of its writing/publication to demonstrate a change in trends over time or to detail a history of controversy in the field or of developments in the understanding of your topic.  
  • Theme: Group your sources by subject or theme to show the variety of angles from which your topic has been studied. This works well if, for example, your goal is to identify an angle or subtopic that has so far been overlooked by researchers.  
  • Methodology: Grouping your sources by methodology (for example, dividing the literature into qualitative vs. quantitative studies or grouping sources according to the populations studied) is useful for illustrating an overlooked population, an unused or underused methodology, or a flawed experimental technique.

cat lying on laptop as though typing

  • Be selective. Highlight only the most important and relevant points from a source in your review.
  • Use quotes sparingly. Short quotes can help to emphasize a point, but thorough analysis of language from each source is generally unnecessary in a literature review.
  • Synthesize your sources. Your goal is not to make a list of summaries of each source but to show how the sources relate to one another and to your own work.
  • Make sure that your own voice and perspective remains front and center. Don't rely too heavily on summary or paraphrasing. For each source, draw a conclusion about how it relates to your own work or to the other literature on your topic.
  • Be objective. When you identify a disagreement in the literature, be sure to represent both sides. Don't exclude a source simply on the basis that it does not support your own research hypothesis.
  • At the end of your lit review, make suggestions for future research. What subjects, populations, methodologies, or theoretical lenses warrant further exploration? What common flaws or biases did you identify that could be corrected in future studies?

cat lying on laptop, facing screen; text reads "needs moar ciatations"

  • Double check that you've correctly cited each of the sources you've used in the citation style requested by your professor (APA, MLA, etc.) and that your lit review is formatted according to the guidelines for that style.

Your literature review should:

  • Be focused on and organized around your topic.
  • Synthesize your research into a summary of what is and is not known about your topic.
  • Identify any gaps or areas of controversy in the literature related to your topic.
  • Suggest questions that require further research.
  • Have your voice and perspective at the forefront rather than merely summarizing others' work.
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  • Literature Review Tutorials and Samples - Wilson Library at University of La Verne
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What is a Literature Review?

The scholarly conversation.

A literature review provides an overview of previous research on a topic that critically evaluates, classifies, and compares what has already been published on a particular topic. It allows the author to synthesize and place into context the research and scholarly literature relevant to the topic. It helps map the different approaches to a given question and reveals patterns. It forms the foundation for the author’s subsequent research and justifies the significance of the new investigation.

A literature review can be a short introductory section of a research article or a report or policy paper that focuses on recent research. Or, in the case of dissertations, theses, and review articles, it can be an extensive review of all relevant research.

  • The format is usually a bibliographic essay; sources are briefly cited within the body of the essay, with full bibliographic citations at the end.
  • The introduction should define the topic and set the context for the literature review. It will include the author's perspective or point of view on the topic, how they have defined the scope of the topic (including what's not included), and how the review will be organized. It can point out overall trends, conflicts in methodology or conclusions, and gaps in the research.
  • In the body of the review, the author should organize the research into major topics and subtopics. These groupings may be by subject, (e.g., globalization of clothing manufacturing), type of research (e.g., case studies), methodology (e.g., qualitative), genre, chronology, or other common characteristics. Within these groups, the author can then discuss the merits of each article and analyze and compare the importance of each article to similar ones.
  • The conclusion will summarize the main findings, make clear how this review of the literature supports (or not) the research to follow, and may point the direction for further research.
  • The list of references will include full citations for all of the items mentioned in the literature review.

Key Questions for a Literature Review

A literature review should try to answer questions such as

  • Who are the key researchers on this topic?
  • What has been the focus of the research efforts so far and what is the current status?
  • How have certain studies built on prior studies? Where are the connections? Are there new interpretations of the research?
  • Have there been any controversies or debate about the research? Is there consensus? Are there any contradictions?
  • Which areas have been identified as needing further research? Have any pathways been suggested?
  • How will your topic uniquely contribute to this body of knowledge?
  • Which methodologies have researchers used and which appear to be the most productive?
  • What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to you?
  • How does your particular topic fit into the larger context of what has already been done?
  • How has the research that has already been done help frame your current investigation ?

Examples of Literature Reviews

Example of a literature review at the beginning of an article: Forbes, C. C., Blanchard, C. M., Mummery, W. K., & Courneya, K. S. (2015, March). Prevalence and correlates of strength exercise among breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors . Oncology Nursing Forum, 42(2), 118+. Retrieved from Example of a comprehensive review of the literature: Wilson, J. L. (2016). An exploration of bullying behaviours in nursing: a review of the literature.   British Journal Of Nursing ,  25 (6), 303-306. For additional examples, see:

Galvan, J., Galvan, M., & ProQuest. (2017). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences (Seventh ed.). [Electronic book]

Pan, M., & Lopez, M. (2008). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Pub. [ Q180.55.E9 P36 2008]

Useful Links

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  • Literature Reviews: overview (UNC)
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Evidence Matrix for Literature Reviews

The  Evidence Matrix  can help you  organize your research  before writing your lit review.  Use it to  identify patterns  and commonalities in the articles you have found--similar methodologies ?  common  theoretical frameworks ? It helps you make sure that all your major concepts covered. It also helps you see how your research fits into the context  of the overall topic.

  • Evidence Matrix Special thanks to Dr. Cindy Stearns, SSU Sociology Dept, for permission to use this Matrix as an example.
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Sociology Literature Reviews Samples For Students

683 samples of this type

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Development is defined as the act of adaptation while personality development basically refers to the mental, emotional, psychological, temperamental and behavioral growth that one acquires (Schulz and Heckhausen, 1996). Also, personality development can be described as the averagely constant and stable features and characteristics a person bears with time (Alea, Diehl and Bluck, 2004). Personality development usually is an attribute associated with age and experience.

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Romero, R. R. (2004). Religious involvement and adult mortality in the United States: review and perspective. The free library (December, 1). Retrieved from: involvement and adult mortality in the United States:-a0127069493

The report seeks to analyze empirical data on the linkage between religion and adult mortality in the United States. The main objective is to examine how religion influences mortality outcomes.

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Philip Levine was born on January 10, 1928 in Detroit city of Michigan State. He is famous for his poetry work about the working-class Detroit. He started working in car manufacturing plants at the age of 14 but later as a lecturer at California State University for thirty years teaching in the English Department. Robert Lee Frost (23/3/1974 -29/1/1963) was an American poet born in San Francisco, California. His poet's work is known to depict a rural setting. He started working on his farm before becoming an English teacher at various schools and universities.

The two poets have various similar connections. Looking at their biography, we can see the following connections:

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  • University of La Verne
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Literature Review Basics

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Literature Review Tutorials

  • Literature Reviews: An Overview for Students What is a literature review? What purpose does it serve in research? What should you expect when writing one? Find out here in this guide from NCSU libraries.
  • Write a Lit Review from Virginia Commonwealth University Follow this guide to learn how to write a literature review, beginning with a synthesis matrix.
  • Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide This guide will help you understand what is a Literature Review, why it is important and how it is done. Also includes information on Annotated Bibliographies.
  • Writing a Literature Review from the University of Toledo Covers what a lit review is, lit review types, writing a lit review and further readings.
  • The Literature Review Process A guide from the University of North Texas on selecting a topic, searching the literature, plan before reviewing, reviewing the literature and writing the review.
  • The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Permission granted to use this guide.

Sample Literature Reviews

  • Business Literature Review Example One Sharing economy: A comprehensive literature review
  • Business Literature Review Example Two Internet marketing: a content analysis of the research
  • Education Literature Review Sample One Teachers’ perception of STEM integration and education: a systematic literature review
  • Education Literature Review Sample Two Issues and Challenges for Teaching Successful Online Courses in Higher Education: A Literature Review
  • Gerontology Literature Review Sample One Attitudes towards caring for older people: literature review and methodology
  • Gerontology Literature Review Sample Two Literature review: understanding nursing competence in dementia care
  • Psychology Literature Review Sample One Psychological Correlates of University Students’ Academic Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
  • Psychology Literature Review Sample Two Misuse of Prescription Stimulants Among College Students: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Morphological and Cognitive Effects on Brain Functioning
  • Public Administration Literature Review Sample One Considering the Environment in Transportation Planning: Review of Emerging Paradigms and Practice in the United States
  • Public Administration Literature Review Sample Two Assessing the impact of research on policy: a literature review
  • Sociology Literature Review Sample One Employment Among Current and Former Welfare Recipients: A Literature Review
  • Sociology Literature Review Sample Two Deployment and family functioning: A literature review of US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Technology Literature Review Sample One Social media and innovation: A systematic literature review and future research directions
  • Technology Literature Review Sample Two Blockchain as a disruptive technology for business: A systematic review
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How to use Scientific Articles in a Literature Review

Video explanations of a literature review, what is a literature review, types of literature reviews.

  • Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

"A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. Occasionally you will be asked to write one as a separate assignment, ..., but more often it is part of the introduction to an essay, research report, or thesis. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries."

- Taylor, D. (n.d). The literature review: A few tips on conducting it. Retrieved from

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?

  • To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
  • To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
  • Identify a problem in a field of research 

- Baumeister, R.F. & Leary, M.R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews. Review of General Psychology , 1 (3), 311-320.

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Systematic review - "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139)

- Nelson, L.K. (2013). Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders . San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.

Meta-analysis - "Meta-analysis is a method of reviewing resarch findings in a quantitative fashion by transforming the data from individual studies into what is called an effect size and then pooling and analyzing this information. The basic goal in meta-analysis is to explain why different outcomes have occured in different studies." (p. 197)

-Roberts, M.C. & Ilardi, S.S. (2003). Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology . Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Meta-synthesis - " Qualitative meta-synthesis is a type of qualitative study that uses as data the findings from other qualitative studies linked by the same or related topic." (p.312)

-Zimmer, L. (2006). Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts. Journal of Advanced Nursing , 53 (3), 311-318. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.03721.x

From University of Connecticut Library

Traditional or Narrative

  • Provides background for understanding current knowledge
  • Critiques, summarizes and draws conclusions from a body of knowledge
  • Identifies gaps or inconsistencies to be filled or corrected through further research and study
  • Helps to refine the topic and research question
  • Carries the flaw of becoming less useful as more information becomes available
  • Identifies, appraises and synthesizes available evidence in order to answer a specified research question
  • Applies a more rigorous approach that details the time frame of selected literature and method of critique and analysis
  • Uses explicit and well-defined methods in order to minimize bias and increase reliability
  • Includes as comprehensive an amount of studies as possible that includes both published and unpublished findings, such as "grey literature"


  • Systematically locates, appraises and synthesizes data from a large body of findings using statistical analysis and techniques
  • Similar to a systematic review in that it integrates the findings of a large body of knowledge
  • Attempts to correct flaws of traditional or narrative reviews by allowing researchers to synthesize a greater amount of studies
  • Integrates and draws conclusions on research findings and seeks to detect broad patterns and relationships between studies


  • Attempts to bring together, juxtapose, re-analyze and combine findings from multiple qualitiative studies using non-statistical techniques
  • Seeks to discover or provide new interpretations, conceptions or theoretical developments
  • Combines multiple studies to identify common key themes and elements
  • May use findings from phenomenological, grounded theory or ethnographic studies

Borenstein, M.H., Viggins, L.V. & Julian, P.T. (2009). Introduction to Meta-Analysis. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley

Cronin, P., Ryan, F. & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: A step-by-step approach . British Journal of Nursing, 17 (1), 38-43.

Glasziou, P. (2001). Systematic Reviews in Health Care : A Practical Guide. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mays, C., Popay, N. & Jennie (2007).  Synthesising Qualitative and Quantitative Health Research : A Guide to Methods . Great Britain: Open University Press.

From Bow Valley College Library

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Soc 001: introductory sociology.

  • Literature Reviews: Strategies for Writing
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Literature Reviews

What is a Literature Review? The literature review is a critical look at the existing research that is significant to the work that you are carrying out. This overview identifies prominent research trends in addition to assessing the overall strengths and weaknesses of the existing research.

Purpose of the Literature Review

  • To provide background information about a research topic.
  • To establish the importance of a topic.
  • To demonstrate familiarity with a topic/problem.
  • To “carve out a space” for further work and allow you to position yourself in a scholarly conversation.

Characteristics of an effective literature review In addition to fulfilling the purposes outlined above, an effective literature review provides a critical overview of existing research by

  • Outlining important research trends.
  • Assessing strengths and weaknesses (of individual studies as well the existing research as a whole).
  • Identifying potential gaps in knowledge.
  • Establishing a need for current and/or future research projects.

Steps of the Literature Review Process

1) Planning: identify the focus, type, scope and discipline of the review you intend to write. 2) Reading and Research: collect and read current research on your topic. Select only those sources that are most relevant to your project. 3) Analyzing: summarize, synthesize, critique, and compare your sources in order to assess the field of research as a whole. 4) Drafting: develop a thesis or claim to make about the existing research and decide how to organize your material. 5) Revising: revise and finalize the structural, stylistic, and grammatical issues of your paper.

This process is not always a linear process; depending on the size and scope of your literature review, you may find yourself returning to some of these steps repeatedly as you continue to focus your project.

These steps adapted from the full workshop offered by the Graduate Writing Center at Penn State. 

Literature Review Format


  • Provide an overview of the topic, theme, or issue.
  • Identify your specific area of focus.
  • Describe your methodology and rationale. How did you decide which sources to include and which to exclude? Why? How is your review organized?
  • Briefly discuss the overall trends in the published scholarship in this area.
  •  Establish your reason for writing the review.
  •  Find the best organizational method for your review.
  •  Summarize sources by providing the most relevant information.
  •  Respectfully and objectively critique and evaluate the studies.
  •  Use direct quotations sparingly and only if appropriate.


  •  Summarize the major findings of the sources that you reviewed, remembering to keep the focus on your topic.
  •  Evaluate the current state of scholarship in this area (ex. flaws or gaps in the research, inconsistencies in findings) 
  •  Identify any areas for further research.
  •  Conclude by making a connection between your topic and some larger area of study such as the discipline. 
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  • What is Research Literature
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Research literature can be defined as written reports from research studies. There are many types of research literature, with published research articles representing the most common source for research literature. Other sources include dissertations, books, and internet websites.

Published research articles, for some, are considered the most trustworthy type of research literature. When identifying articles, it is most important to consider the origin of the work .... Read more

The concept of a literature review is very much a plural rather than a singular one as there are many literatures a researcher must examine to produce a coherent literature review. For example, by doing qualitative research, the researcher is joining an ongoing debate in some shape or form. The originality of an idea, an approach, or a theoretical reinterpretation adds to existing literature. The objective of this entry is to describe the plurality of literature, to underline the difference between general and specific literatures, t o highlight how to use theoretical literature as a tool to increase understanding of a subject area and test a research question or hypothesis , and to examine the methodology and data literatures that form important parts of the research process... ... Read more

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an explanation of what has been published on a subject by recognized researchers. Occasionally you will be asked to write one as a separate assignment (sometimes in the form of an annotated bibliography, but more often it is part of the introduction to a   research report, essay, thesis or dissertation.) Critical literature reviews help to write your literature review more effectively: A literature review must do these things: a. be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing b. synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known c. identify areas of controversy in the literature d. formulate questions that need further research Before writing literature review ask yourself questions like these:

1. What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my review of literature helps to define?

2. What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research (e.g. on the effectiveness of a new procedure)? qualitative research (e.g., studies )?

3. What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)? What discipline am I working in (e.g., management , organizational behavior, 


4. How good was my information seeking? Has my search been wide enough to ensure I've found all the relevant material? Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material? Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper?

5. Have I critically analyzed the literature I use? Do I follow through a set of concepts and questions, comparing items to each other in the ways they deal with them? Instead of just listing and summarizing items, do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?

6. Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?

7. Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and useful?

Tips on writing a literature review (Hart 1998)

Lit Review Tips

Search for the most recent articles that deal with your topic; many of them will summarize the prior literature in the area, saving you valuable time. Remember to attribute even if you paraphrase!

Literature reviews can be overwhelming. You can't find everything. Just find the literature that gets discussed the most or is most relevant to your topic.

The goal of the literature review is to show that you understand the 'bigger picture' and can put your research and recommendations in context of others working in the field.

Need help writing a literature review?

Writing Literature Reviews : A Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences by Jose L. Galvan.

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SOCIOL 495S: Sociology Honors Thesis Seminar

  • Getting Started
  • Writing Your Literature Review
  • Finding Articles
  • Finding General Data
  • Finding Subject Specific Data
  • Software Resources
  • Citing Sources

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a “critical analysis of a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles” (University of Wisconsin Writing Center).

Do not confuse a literature review with an annotated bibliography.

Information for this page is taken from the Thompson Writing Program .

  • The introduction should explain why you are writing the review (“so what/who cares?”) and make some central claims about the current state of the literature (e.g. trends, debates, gaps, etc.).
  • Organize the body of the paper by common denominators among sources, such as methodologies, conclusions, philosophical approaches, or possibly chronology (assuming topical subsections)
  • The conclusion should summarize significant contributions to the field, situate the reviewed literature in the larger context of the discipline, point out flaws or gaps in the research, and/or suggest future areas of study.

Lit Review Process

example of a sociology literature review

Literature Review Tutorial

Questions to Ask

  • How are sources similar in terms of methodologies, philosophies, claims, choice and interpretation of evidence, reliability, etc.?
  • How do they differ?
  • Do you observe gaps in the research or areas that require further study?
  • Do particular issues or problems stand out?
  • Do you want to compare texts in general or hone in on a specific issue or question?
  • Determine your purpose.Understanding the purpose and expectations of the prompt will help you place appropriate emphasis on analysis or summary.
  • Keep track of sources by writing a brief summary for each.
  • Consider making a table or chart to map how different sources relate to/contrast with one another.
  • Consider the significance of each work to the field. The amount of space you dedicate to an individual source denotes its significance within the body of literature.
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