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Art & Art History

This guide is intended to help you get started with your art research.

About Literature Reviews

For a look at our complete guide visit this page.

A literature review is both a process and a product. This guide focuses on the process of doing a literature review. As a process, it involves searching for information related to your topic, to familiarize yourself with the relevant research and to identify issues and gaps in the research. In most cases you're seeking to identify the key authors and key arguments that are relevant to your topic, not to exhaustively read everything written on the subject. 

What is a literature review?

  • "Literature reviews are systematic syntheses of previous work around a particular topic" -- Card, Noel A. "Literature Review." In Encyclopedia of Research Design, edited by Neil J. Salkind, 726-29. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2010. 
  • Note the term "syntheses" - most literature reviews go beyond mere summarization and involve a certain level of analysis
  • While most literature reviews are written to introduce a particular research study, some types of literature reviews, such as systematic reviews or qualitative meta-syntheses, are research methods in and of themselves.

Why do a literature review?

  • To broaden your own knowledge of the research area
  • To clarify and focus your research question
  • To situate your research in the context of related research, and identify gaps in the literature that your research may address
  • To improve your methodology by learning what tools and approaches other researchers have used

Source: Barron, Lee. "LITERATURE REVIEW." In The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods, edited by Victor Jupp, 163-64. London, England: SAGE Publications, Ltd., 2006. 

When should the review be conducted?

  • BEFORE you start your project. Remember, it’s meant to inform the rest of the project – don’t bake the cake, then try to concoct the recipe!

How comprehensive/systematic should it be?

  • That depends – there are different types of literature reviews, some of which aim to identify every published study on the topic. The literature you review should be a representative but not necessarily exhaustive synthesis of the literature surrounding your topic or question.

Read more about looking for relevant literature: Maxwell, J. A.. (2006). Literature Reviews of, and for, Educational Research: A Commentary on Boote and Beile's "Scholars before Researchers". Educational Researcher35(9), 28–31. 

Questions to Ask

U of Toronto Writing has a great guide and questions to ask yourself at the beginning and throughout the Literature Review:

  1. What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review 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 of loneliness among migrant workers)?
  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., nursing psychology, sociology, medicine)?
  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?

Check out their excellent full guide for literature review advice:

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