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ITI664: English Learner Achievement in Content Area: Literature Review

Literature Review

The literature review is your analytical story of who is doing research related to your thesis and publishing it in peer-reviewed journals or other scholarly sources. 

Additional Resources

The structure and nature of your thesis statement will depend on the type of report you are writing.  It usually does the following:

  • Briefly describes the main idea(s) of your paper
  • Makes an argumentative statement
  • May be like a formula: 
    • Claim + Reason = Thesis
    • Problem for a specific population + Intervention = Outcome

The working thesis will evolve as your paper progresses.  Have a basic idea, but be willing to change and revise as your paper changes.

The thesis is the “hook” on which the author can hang the sub-theses or research questions that provide the evidence to support the argument.  The three or four research questions selected set the focus of the project and direct the literature review.

A literature review may consist of a simple overview of key sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories or research questions formed during the research process.

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the research problem being studied,
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration,
  • Identify new ways to interpret, and shed light on any gaps in previous research,
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies,
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort,
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research, and
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature.

Source: USC

Use the research questions to help define and focus your literature review.  Observe similarities and  differences in the studies discussed in each area.


Don't just think about what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

- How are they organizing their ideas?
- What methods have they used to study the problem?
- What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
- What sources have they cited to support of their conclusions?
- How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

These observations lay a foundation for  how you might approach your literature review.

Source: USC

The video by North Carolina State University does an excellent job outlining the literature review process.  If you have any questions, Ask Us!

How you weave the studies into your story depends on the information collected and how you synthesize or reorganize the information to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits into the larger field of study.  It maybe written chronologically or topically.  Often it is organized around the research questions developed during the research process. 

Be careful that you do not fall into a trap of discussing each article one at a time.  This becomes an annotated bibliography and not a literature review.

The literature review will compare studies by looking at study design (qualitative, quantitative, clinical review, etc.), results, and gaps. 

For examples of literature reviews, you may look at a dissertation (all contain a literature review chapter) or look for an article on your topic and add the phrase, "literature review" as a search term.

SAGE Research Methods

Find SAGE Research Methods about how to write a literature review. Click on the Methods Map image or use the database link below.