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Conducting a Literature Review for the Social Sciences

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an essential part of a research project.  It discusses previous research on a topic. Some reasons to conduct a literature review include:

  • To understand what is currently known about a topic.
  • How does the research you propose to undertake fit into a larger picture.
  • To offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.
  • To see what has and has not been investigated.

Typically, literature reviews involve doing a comprehensive search for the literature, and can be a cyclical process involving the use of primary (original research), secondary sources (summaries of original research such as review articles, textbooks, etc.), and tertiary sources (e.g. translations).

Sample of Published Literature Reviews

As a starting point, to find literature reviews on your topic, search in a database related to your topic (e.g. PsycINFO) and include these keywords in your search. Below are some sample searches:

"literature review" AND [your topic here]
"literature review" AND "social work" AND [your topic here]

Sample articles with literature review methodologies:

ebooks - Conducting a Literature Review

For more information on writing literature reviews for the social sciences, you may want to consult these ebooks: