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Journalism - Resources for Journalism Graduate Students

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a compilation of scholarly published research on a particular topic.  It should explain to your readers what knowledge and ideas have been established on the topic, along with their strengths and weaknesses. In journalism and mass communication, faculty may also allow you to include professional and trade articles in your literature review.

Literature reviews can be a subsection or a stand alone bibliographic essay.

  • Subsection literature reviews are often found after the introduction and before the methodology section of the work.  They may also be a part of a background section or appear before or after it.  Examples of subsection literature reviews:
    • Part of a research project/paper
    • A chapter in a dissertation or thesis
    • A section in a scholarly journal article
    • Analysis of existing research in a research proposal
    • Justification in a grant application
  • Stand alone bibliographic essay type literature reviews may include:
    • A literature review assigned for class to understand and write about current research on a topic
    • An analytical essay synthesizing an annotated bibliography into a formal paper
    • A review article for a scholarly journal

Suggestions for Conducting the Literature Review

  • Organize the review around a research question or hypothesis
  • Summarize with a synthesis of your results
  • Identify gaps in the literature as well as controversy
  • Formulate suggestions for further research
  • Follow suggestions on "Research Tips & Techniques for Effective Searching" on the previous page

Types of Literature Reviws

Argumentative Review

This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute and argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature.  The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint.

Integrative Review

Probably the most common form of review in the social sciences, the integrative review is a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated.  The body of the literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems.

Historical Review

Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline.  The purpose is to place research in a historical context.

Methodological Review

A review does not always focus on what someone said, but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis].  Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels, how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis.  This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review

This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"

Theoretical Review

The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

Fink, A. (2005).  Conducting research literature reviews: From the Internet to paper.  2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage.;  Hart, C.  (1998).  Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination.  Thousand Oaks, DA: Sage Publications.  Jesson, J.  (2011).   Doing your literature review: traditional and systematic techniques.  Lo Angeles, CA: Sage;  Ridley, D. (2012).  The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students.  2nd ed.  Los Angeles, CA: Sage. University of Southern California Libraries. (2015). Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: 5. The Literature Review.  Retrieved from

Organize Your Reviews

Decide how to organize your reviews

Since one of the purposes of the literature reviews is to provide an overview and synthesis of the information you read, grouping similar articles can provide structure to your overview.

Examples of ways to organize a literature review:

  • Chronological - organize by how the topic has changed over time.  Define it; explain how it has evolved over time; and conclude with how it is viewed today.
  • Comparison to Present Hypothesis - An empirical article or meta analysis involves an hypothesis and conclusion.  Organize the review to show articles supporting your hypothesis and those disagreeing with it. It enables you to effectively show strengths of the supporting research, discuss validity and methodologies that disagree with your findings, summing up with how past research leads up to and supports yours.
  • Broad to Specific - Begin with the general and narrow down to specific issues until you reach articles similar to your research statement.
  • Major Models or Major Theories - Group articles by the theoretical framework preferred by the author of the article.
  • Prominent Authors - Use the bibliography or references to identify prominent authors who may have started or helped develop the field that is the topic of your review.
  • Contrasting Thoughts - Authors have contrasting views about a topic, group the literature review by those schools of thought and contrast their different approaches.
  • Problem to Solution - Group quotations from articles describing problems being addressed in your research, then group by solutions proposed in the articles.
  • Process Flow - If your literature review centers around a process, describe the stages in the process and group citations by stages or steps in the process.  Use the articles to describe the process or compare or contrast approaches.

    North Carolina State University, Bluford Library. (2015). Literature Review - Libquide.  Retrieved from

Create an Outline

Once you have decided on the organization structure of your literature review, create an outline.  An outline is a good way to organize you ideas, articles, quotations and references.

Create the outline based on your organization.  If you have organized your review chronologically, label time periods that mark changes in the history of your topic. Example:

1.  Origins  1970s

  • White, 1970, p 72-95
  • George, 1972, p 3-19
  • Wilder, 1972, p 45-60

2.  1980's-1990's

  • White, 1983, p 77-85
  • Underwood, 1985, p 125-140
  • Jemison, 1998, p 42-56

3.  Current

  • Thorson, 2013, p 28-45
  • Duffy, 2014, p 67-82
  • Rodgers, 2015, p 27-46

As you begin reading the articles, whenever you find a good quote, mark it with the part of the outline in which it fits.  Make note of the author, year and page number whenever you run across something in your reading that falls into a subsection in your review outline.

Literature Review Resources


Guides for Conducting Literature Reviews

 Literature Reviews:  Books

  • Dawidowicz, P.  (2010).  Literature reviews mad easy: a quick guide to success. Charlotte, NC : Information Age Pub.
  • Fink, A. (1998). Conducting research literature reviews: from paper to the Internet.  Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage.  Journalism Library, Journalism Library Reserve and Ellis Library.  Q 180.55 .M4 F56 1998.
  • Joyner, R. L. et. al. (2013). Writing the winning thesis or dissertation : a step-by-step guide . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press,  3rd ed. Ellis Library  LB2369 .G56 2013.
  • Machi, L. A. & McEvoy, B.  (2009). The literature review : six steps to success. Thousand Oaks, CA : Corwin Press. Journalism Library Reserve.  LB1047.3 .M33 2009.
  • Pan, M. L.  (2008).  Preparing literature reviews:  qualitative and quantitative approaches.  Glendale, CA : Pyrczak Pub., 3rd ed. Journalism Library Q180.55.E9 P36 2008.
  • Ridley, D. (2012).  The literature review : a step-by-step guide for students.   London ; Thousand Oaks, CA : SAGE.  2nd. ed.  Ellis Library LB2369 .R525 2012.