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Education Research for Graduate Students

This is a guide for graduate students doing education research

What is a literature review and why should you do it?

A literature review is:

  • a summary and evaluation of the significant research and/or theory published on a topic
  • organized in a way that analyzes, integrates, and shows the relationship between research studies, as well as the way each has contributed to an understanding of the topic
  • NOT just an annotated bibliography


The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • provide an overview of relevant literature, research, and methodology in an area of study
  • explore relationships among the prior research
  • evaluate the prior research
  • identify gaps and discrepancies in the literature
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • make an argument for why further study of your research question is important to a field


 Benefits to the researcher:

  • Establishing context and significance of the problem
  • Discovering appropriate subject vocabulary
  • Identifying methodologies
  • Identifying what has been researched and where gaps may be found – underused methodologies, designs, populations
  • Focusing research topic


Evaluate your articles by asking yourself some of these questions:

  • What is the methodology ?
  • What is the quality of the findings or conclusions?
  • What are the article’s major strengths and weaknesses ?
  • What beliefs are expressed/is there an ideological stance?
  • Can the results be generalized?
  • How does this fit in and compare with other articles I have read?


Writing the review

The literature review should deal with relationships – how do the articles relate to each other?  How do the articles relate to your research?


 In the literature review:

  • Explain the reason for reviewing the literature; explain why particular literature was included or excluded
  • Summarize the major contributions of the significant articles
  • Evaluate and compare the articles
  • Evaluate the current state of the research -- explain inconsistencies in theory or conclusions, gaps in research, trends in what has been published, and opportunities for further research
  • DO NOT just summarize the articles

Ways to organize:

  • By theoretical approaches
  • By concept or issue
  • By methodologies employed
  • By chronology, if significant changes in thought have taken place


  • Use subheadings to clarify the structure
  • Use original sources -- do not cite works you have not read
  • Minimize direct quotations by summarizing in your own words (with citations)
  • Use appropriate quotation and citation methods to avoid plagiarism