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What is a literature review?

The format of literature reviews vary among disciplines. Some reviews become a publication themselves. Other reviews become a preface to published primary research and theses and dissertations. Literature reviews are commonly required in grant and research proposals.

Literature reviews critically analyze an aspect of a research topic through summary, comparison, and classification of prior publications (journal articles, books, conference papers, case studies, and other scholarly publications).

You can find examples of published literature reviews by searching Summon or a subject-specific database with your topic and "literature review".

Use the resources and strategies below to assist with the literature review process:

  • Search strategy builder

    Use the Search Strategy Builder tool to develop search strings to enter into databases. By using expanded search strings, including synonyms, alternate spellings, and discipline-specific language, you will get better, more refined results.

  • Find databases

    The libraries subscribe to hundreds of databases to help you find articles, books, conference proceedings, case studies, and other sources for research assignments and projects. This page will guide you in finding the right databases for your topic.

  • Find articles

    Finding the full text of an article depends on what information you currently have: an existing article citation or just a topic idea. This page provides strategies for finding articles for any of these cases.

  • Alerting services

    You can quickly set up alerts received through email of RSS feeds for newly published journal table of contents, publications that match your criteria, or when a given publication is newly cited. Alerts are a great way to keep current on a research topic or discipline.

  • Citation management

    Citation management software allows students and researchers to keep a database of references to research sources like books, articles, dissertations, web pages, and much more. Once you add a reference to the database, you can search these references, insert the citations in documents like research papers or theses, and format bibliographics using various citation styles like APA, MLA, or Chicago. The Virginia Tech Libraries support EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley.
  • Evaluating information

    All information sources should be evaluated for their usefulness for your research needs, since different publications go through different editing and fact checking processes. This page provides strategies for evaluating different kinds of publications. In general, confirm findings using multiple, independent sources.


College Librarian program and contacts

This page lists subject librarians by college. See also the subject guides, which lists librarians by department.