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,,Was vernünftig ist, das ist wirklich; und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig."* This guide is intended for students in philosophy courses; majors, non-majors, and graduate students


Generally speaking, a literature review  is an analysis of existing scholarly publications that directly relate to your research question.

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Provide background information on a topic
  • Give a sense of the overall status of the research conducted
  • Inform on the historical and current argument
  • Establish connections between previous research and your own

It may sometimes be more helpful to think about what a literature review is not:

  • Summary
  • Listing of vaguely or entirely unrelated resources
  • Listing of every piece of research ever conducted on a topic (vital)
  • A deep dive into a specific area of work
  • Criticism of what has been already written (unless this is important in the development of your ideas)

Different Types of Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews are most often included in research papers but they can also be stand-alone works. Lit reviews types vary, so it is important for you to know and follow the guidelines for your assignment.

Here are the most common types of Literature Reviews:

  • Traditional (narrative)
  • Systematic
  • Meta analysis
  • Meta synthesis

Developing a Literature review

  • Road map to YOUR research

  • Mostly developed from secondary literature to demonstrate how the thinking around a topic has developed 

  • Typically not used –as such– in humanities research, but there are very close analogues like historiography, reviews of literature in literary studies, and in philosophy –esp in the subarea of history of philosophy/intellectual history

  • Think of an introductory chapter and the background information, but organized a little differently 

  • Shift in nature, however, as science lit reviews cluster by type

    • Some scientific statement relevant to the research, typically some finding that leads to an important threshold concept (Smith 1997, Otelle 1999, Callahan 2001, Fong, 2019) 

  • In humanities, we tend to be a little more verbose for the same thing: as Otelle said in her 1999 work Title of Important Work, the important concept is indeed important.

  • Social sciences like Psychology would be a very close fitting of the two notions as it has historically been grounded in both theory and practice 

  • Computer science is an area that will have more of the ‘hard science’ lit review methods 

  • NOT a comprehensive dive into the subject, but a map of the important work that gets to where your work comes in. You don’t have to teach people all about Hegel, but the idea is to demonstrate the development of an aspect of Hegel studies by looking at, for example Marxist interpretations down to today’s more materialist studies and more.