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COMM 110: Quantitative Research Methods: Literature Review

Research guide for students taking COMM 110

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Literature Review

What is a literature review?

  • A literature review IS:  
    • An integrated synthesis drawing upon a select list of academic sources (mainly journal articles) with a strong relation to the topic in question. It is a paper that includes a description AND a critical evaluation of past research.

      The literature review is not merely a list of every item and resource with any possible relation to your topic, no matter how tenuous. It focuses on those resources and materials that are directly relevant to the addressing of your topic, and as such, is highly selective.

    • Focused on a particular question or area of research.

      The literature review is not a widespread, comprehensive list of all materials pertaining to a particular discipline or field of inquiry. Rather, it's narrowly focused to concentrate only on truly relevant materials.
  • A literature review IS NOT:  
    • A summary of available materials without any critical description or component; or  
    • An annotated bibliography.
  • The differences between an annotated bibliography and a literature review:
    • Differences in PURPOSE:
      • A literature review makes a case for further investigation and research, highlighting gaps in knowledge and asking questions that need to be answered for the betterment of the discipline; as such, its contents are selected to make the case.
      • An annotated bibliography is a list of what's available in a given field, accompanied by a short description. While it may feature a critical component, the criticism is generally directed at the quality of the work, rather than at its value in answering a particular question or buttressing an argument
      • IN SHORT: a literature review usually has a thesis or statement of purpose, stated or implied, at its core.
    • Differences in FORMAT:
      • A literature review is a prose document similar to a journal article or essay, not a list of citations and descriptions. It often has subsections that highlight themes within the literature review.
      • An annotated bibliography is simply that: a bibliography (a list of works or resources), accompanied by annotations. The annotations are usually short descriptions and a brief critical assessment of each work.


Format of the Literature Review:

Title Page

Give your thesis a descriptive, scholarly title.  People should know what the study is about from reading the title.  


Your introduction should include some sort of attention-getter, transition to topic, statement of significance of topic, relevant sources, a brief description of what your study is all about, and a preview of what will follow in the body of the literature review (past research). You can pull information for the intro from your sources you will use in the body of the literature review, but credible information from popular sources can also be used.

The Literature Review

You will present relevant findings and issues from your  research articles in your literature review. Decide on what organization pattern makes sense for organizing the studies into a coherent presentation: chronological, categorical/topic, general-to-specific, known to unknown, etc.  Try to follow the models of the research articles you’re reading and the textbook’s description of previous research as closely as possible. You will not include ALL the information from each study; rather you will use each study to help you advance the necessary definitions, context, explanation and rationalization for variables, gaps, and the argument your paper is making (i.e., the rationale for your study). Your goal in this section is to synthesize information from the studies into a meaningful presentation.

Your study rationale is the last part of the body section of your literature review.   This is where you explain the thinking that leads to your research questions or hypotheses (you’ll draw upon the past literature to do this—your hypotheses may be extending a previous study, filling a gap you’ve identified, etc.). What research questions or hypotheses can you derive from your examination of the previous literature? While you may have some research questions that relate to HOW youth use media that you won’t be able to answer through the research that YOU will undertake, you should also have a research question that relates to the original study of youth media that you will do (e.g., studying the content of websites/Q-A columns, etc.).

Material adapted from the University of Arizona Library website