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Graduate Research: Guide to the Literature Review

This guide is intended to introduce basic concepts related to preparing a literature review in the fields of information systems, information security, and computer science. Research requires time, patience, creativity, and problem-solving.

Literature Reviews: An Overview

What is a literature review?

A literature review describes key prior research that is related in a significant way to your intended research project. Typically, you will see a literature review as a section of an article, as an entire article of its own, or as a chapter of a dissertation.

Why do a literature review?

  • Reading the scholarly literature related to your research topic helps you:
    • Develop and deepen your understanding of your research area.
    • Develop a research project that is significant -- one that contributes to the field.
    • Develop a research project that does not accidently duplicate other research.
  • Writing the literature review demonstrates that you:
    • Have a thorough understanding of your area of study/research -- knowledge of significant earlier research and of current progress in the field.
    • Understand how your own research fits within the context of other research in your area of study  -- how it's based on prior work of others and how it builds on that prior work.

What does a literature review involve?

  • "... discovering, assessing, and assimilating others' research and then articulating your own ideas clearly and persuasively...." [1]
                              [1]  J. Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: Modern Language Association, 2009.


What next? What else do I need to know?

  • Watch the video "Literature Reviews: An Overview" below.
Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students (North Carolina State University Libraries) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

[ 9.38 minutes ]

The Parlor

Read the following paragraph.  Then answer the questions below it. [1]

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer [her]; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”[2]

Questions (click on question for answer):

1. What would happen if you walked into this parlor, marched right into the center of the room and started spouting your ideas?

2. What if you wandered in, heard one person speak, and then left? What would you be able to say about the discussion?

3. How does the Burkean Parlor relate to writing a literature review?


[1] Use of the Burkean Parlor and questions was suggested by Erika Bennett (Reference Librarian, Capella University) on the Information Literacy discussion list of the American Library Association, ILI-L, on 13 February 2009.

 [2]  K. Burke, The philosophy of literary form; studies in symbolic action. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1941, pp. 110-111.


Karl E. Mundt Library, Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota 57042