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Research Literature Review

A research literature review is a survey and discussion of existing research literature in a given field of study. It is commonly assigned as an academic paper or as an essential component of a thesis or dissertation. Students pursuing advanced degrees will be called upon to write research literature reviews and knowledge of their format is essential to academic achievement.

Before beginning a research literature review, a student must clarify and refine his or her topic. The student may accomplish this by asking a specific question that is relevant in his or her field of study. A student studying animal behavior, for instance, might ask, “what is the effect of contagious disease on the social behavior of chimpanzees?” Another useful approach is to form a hypothesis related to a given topic. An education student might hypothesize that “a direct statistical relationship exists between the time of day tests are given and students’ test scores.”

Once a student has a clearly defined the research question or hypothesis, he or she can survey the research literature to identify papers which bear directly on the chosen topic. There is a variety of reference material available to assist the student in gathering materials for the research literature review. The university librarian can introduce the student to indices such as the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and Dissertation Abstracts International where listings of related research literature can be found. The student will select those papers which have the most direct bearing on the topic, obtain copies, and give them a close reading.

Once the literature has been extensively studied, the student writes the research literature review, describing and discussing each of the relevant studies and its bearing on his or her chosen question or hypothesis. Writing successful research literature reviews is an essential foundation skill the advanced student will cultivate for continued academic success.