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Grad. Studies Home

Creating a Literature Review

Most academic papers start with a review of what others have published on the topic. This shows your readers that the suggestions you will be making come from a position of knowledge. It establishes your credibility.

The literature review usually includes references to articles or books that

Gathering this information requires a literature search.

Here' s an example of the journey one source might take from a few key words in your mind to a reference in your completed literature review.

Let's say that you are looking for information on the problem of the high drop-out rate among women in substance abuse treatment facilities.

  1. You go to EBSCOHost and you type in some key words, like "substance abuse" and "treatment" and "women" and "residential." A number of article titles appear, and you find one that looks interesting. SEE EXAMPLE

  2. The title looks as though the article might be useful, so you decide to read the abstract to get more information before going to the document. SEE EXAMPLE

  3. Since the abstract shows that the article is relevant to your topic, you decide to read it. As you read, you highlight main points of interest. SEE ANNOTATED ARTICLE

  4. Keep a file on your computer in which you note whether the article helps you define the problem, prove that the problem exists, explain what is causing the problem, show how serious the problem is, or provide possible solutions. If you keep your notes in this order, it will be easy to write up your literature review, because you will already have the organization taken care of.

  5. Each article such as the one you just read will end up as only a few words or a sentence in your own document. For instance, in the section of your literature review in which you discuss solutions others have tried, you might write something like "Faith-based mentoring programs arranged through Black churches ((Stahler, Kirby, & Karwin, 2007) have been found to show promise."

Follow this process with each article that you read. As you move through the available research, look for the main point of the article and keep careful notes. (Skimming the abstract and the first and last paragraphs often provides this information.)

Here are some do's and don'ts to consider when you're ready to start writing the literature review.

DON'T include any ideas that you read in the article without citing them (author's name, publication date) as a reference source.

NO Faith-based treatment options have the potential to help Black women complete drug treatment successfully. My project is....
YES Faith-based treatment options have the potential to help Black women complete drug treatment successfully (Stahler, Kirby, & Karwin, 2007). My project is...

DON'T include all or most of the words of a sentence ifrom a sentence that you read in your own document without using quotation marks.

For instance, here is a sentence from the article:

"The results of this study suggest that the Bridges program promoted treatment retention, attendance, and drug abstinence."

The first example below would be considered plagiarism because it uses the exact words from that sentence. The second version below is OK, because you indicate by quotation marks and a page reference that you are using someone else's words. The third version is even better because you present everything in your own words, while still using the name/date reference style to acknowledge the fact that the ideas came from someone else.

NO Stahler, Kirby and Karwin (2007) found that their program promoted treatment retention, attendance, and drug abstinence.
YES Stahler, Kirby and Karwin (2007) found that their program "promoted treatment retention, attendance, and drug abstinence" (p. 189).
YES Stahler, Kirby and Karwin (2007) found that involving mentors from local churches helped recovering women to stay in treatment and abstain from drugs for longer periods than women who did not have such mentors.