What is a literature review and what is its purpose in research methodology?

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A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area.  It can be just a simple summary of sources, but it generally both summarizes and synthesizes available information.   In some situations the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most relevant.

Literature reviews provide a solid background for research.  They demonstrate that the author has a comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field, and can serve as a useful guide to others.

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When you are doing a major project like a thesis or a dissertation, you are always expected to do a literature review.  This is often the first big section or chapter of your work after the introduction.

In a literature review, you are expected to find all major books and articles that have touched upon the subject that you are going to study.  You must then synthesize them and give an overview about the state of the discipline.  In other words, you have to be able to say what is known about the question that you intend to ask.

The purpose of doing this is to make sure that A) you know what others have said and will be able to respond to them and B) that you are doing something original -- not just repeating what is already known.

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