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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.


Articles on Writing Literature Reviews

The following articles provide guidance on writing a literature review.

Examples of literature reviews

 lock iconNOTE: When off-campus, you will be required to login with your DSU credentials when you link to the items below. 

I. Example of an article in which the literature review takes up several sections.  The literature review is provided in the first several sections before the authors report their new proposed model in section V.

Aljahdali, H., Townend, P., & Xu, J. (2013). Enhancing Multi-tenancy Security in the Cloud IaaS Model over Public Deployment. 2013 IEEE 7th International Symposium on Service Oriented System Engineering (SOSE), pp. 285-390. Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/SOSE.2013.50    

II. Example of an article with the literature review in a section labeled "current state of the art." The literature review begins on page 29.

Shu, Z., Qian, Y., & Ci, S. (2013). On physical layer security for cognitive radio networks. IEEE Network, 23(3), 28-32. Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/MNET.2013.6523805    

III. Example of an article with the literature review in a section labeled "background and related work."

Ali, M.Q., Al-Shaer, E., Khan, H., & Khayam, S.A. (2013). Automated Anomaly Detector Adaptation using Adaptive Threshold Tuning. ACM Transactions on Information and System Security (TISSEC), 15(4). DOI: 10.1145/2445566.2445569     

IV. Example of a dissertation with the literature review as Chapter 2.

Chen, V. V. (2012). Ensuring the effectiveness of information security policy: The development and validation of an information security policy model. Doctoral Dissertation, State University of New York at Albany). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Order number 3540120.

V. Example of a review article, in which the entire article is devoted to a literature review. 

Lebek, B., Uffen, J., Breitner, M.H., Neumann, M., & Hohler, B. (2013). Employees' Information Security Awareness and Behavior: A Literature Review, pp. 2978 - 2987. 2013 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/HICSS.2013.192