HDFS 375 - Introduction to Research Methods in HDFS

A guide for students learning to do research in HDFS

Library Research Guide

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

It benefits you as a researcher by helping you:

  • establish the context and significance of the problem

  • discover appropriate subject vocabulary

  • discover prominent journals and authors on your topic

  • identify methodologies

  • identify what has been researched and where gaps may be found – underused methodologies, designs, populations

  • focus your research topic

Evaluate Your Literature

Answering some of these questions as you read the literature you have found will help you figure out the context, the relationship between articles, and where they might fit in your literature review.

  • 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 things I have read for this review?

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

Systematic Reviews

A systematic review is a structured, comprehensive review and analysis of the literature on a particular topic. Although systematic reviews originated in the health sciences, they can be used for social sciences topics as well.

Comparison of systematic review and literature review

Adapted from: Kysh, Lynn (2013): Difference between a systematic review and a literature review. figshare. Poster. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.766364.v1

The PRISMA format (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) provides extensive resources and checklists on conducting a systematic review. See the book Documentary Research in the Social Sciences (Tight, 2019) and in particular the chapter Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses for more information specific to the social sciences (access limited to K-State eIDs).

The University of Saskatchewan has compiled a very thorough and helpful Synthesis Review Toolkit. 

Using AI for Literature Reviews

There are many Artificial Intelligence (AI) resources available to help with literature reviews. While they can't write your review for you, they can help you find sources. Always be sure to check your class, university, or publisher policies on the use of AI resources before you start. Find more information on our Research Guide page "AI Literacy"