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Writing a Literature Review


Phase 1: Scope of Review

Tips on writing a literature review (in any subject).

It's a Literature Review of What, Precisely?

Need to Have a Precise Topic
It is essential that one defines a research topic very carefully. For example, it should not be too far-reaching. The following is much too broad:

"Life and Times of Sigmund Freud"

However, this is more focused and specific and, accordingly, a more appropriate topic:

"An Analysis of the Relationship of Freud and Jung in the International Psychoanalytic Association, 1910-1914"


Limitations of Study
In specifying precisely one's research topic, one is also specifying appropriate limitations on the research. Limiting, for example, by time, personnel, gender, age, location, nationality, etc. results in a more focused and meaningful topic.

Scope of the Literature Review
It is also important to determine the precise scope of the literature review. For example,

  • What exactly will you cover in your review?
  • How comprehensive will it be?
  • How long? About how many citations will you use?
  • How detailed? Will it be a review of ALL relevant material or will the scope be limited to more recent material, e.g., the last five years.
  • Are you focusing on methodological approaches; on theoretical issues; on qualitative or quantitative research?
  • Will you broaden your search to seek literature in related disciplines?
  • Will you confine your reviewed material to English language only or will you include research in other languages too?



In evaluating studies, timeliness is more significant for some subjects than others.

Scientists generally need more recent material.

However, currency is often less of a factor for scholars in arts/humanities. Research published in 1920 about Plato's philosophy might be more relevant than recent studies.