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REL 263: Ethnography of Religion (Dr. Courtney Dorroll)

Tips for Writing a Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to communicate to your reader what we know - and don't know - about a topic, based on what has been written about your topic in the scholarly literature. Your literature review should SUMMARIZE and SYNTHESIZE research articles that are relevant to your topic. Despite the name "literature review," you are not giving your opinion on a topic or article, as in a movie review; you are recapping what research has already been done in order to point out what new research (YOUR research!) needs to be carried out.

  • Search selectively - you want to find studies that are similar to your proposed topic, not every article ever written about your country or group.
  • Use the right database to do your search. OneSearch searches everything Wofford owns, but a database about history, government, or religion (depending on your topic) will help you narrow your results effortlessly.
  • Think about how to organize your review. Most literature reviews are organized chronologically (from the earliest article to the most recent), by theme, or by the methodology the authors use.
  • When you find an excellent article, check that article's literature review or works cited to find other, similar articles that you can use in your literature review. Look up these article in OneSearch, or ask a librarian for help tracking them down.
  • Your literature review is not meant to review articles in the sense of giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down; however, if a study seems poorly carried out, or has a major limitation, you should discuss that in the context of research you intend to do.
  • Look for gaps in the literature - things that have not been studied yet. Finding an important gap and proposing how to fill it (with your research) is one of the goals of a literature review!

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