Answered By: Heidi Johnson
Last Updated: Jan 19, 2018     Views: 366

A literature review is basically what most students have actually done if they say they have done a research paper. A true research paper means that original research has been done (quanitative - surveys, qualitative - focus groups for example). 

A literature review, on the other hand, is basically a survey of what the literature says for a given topic. The literature can encompass primary research articles that contain original research or they could be books, reference sources, government web sites, etc.

What constitutes acceptable resources is dependent on the field of study; for example, history might find first-hand resources from 100 years ago excellent whereas anything older than 5 years old is usually considered unacceptable for health sciences.

That's why I am a little hestitate to give a definitive answer to your question because it does depend on your field of study. It might be helpful to see what literature reviews look like for your area. You will find them at the beginning of most primary research articles (those have methodologies to explain what original research they did) as a way for the authors to "set the stage" to what has already been done in the literature and how their current study adds to that body of research. They sometimes even label it "Literature Review" although again this depends on your area. This could be a good exercise for the students, too.

You will also find literature reviews as a part of master's and doctoral theses for the same purpose although these are harder to get the full-text. Any master's theses for our programs will be full-text online through one of our databases (Here is a link to our databases for dissertations. 

Finally, here is a link for lit. reviews with some simple exercises that I give to the McNair Scholars when I come and do a library presentation for them in preparation for their lit. reviews. 

Please let us know if there are any other ways we can support you as you develop this assignment and course.

Good luck!

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