Writing Resources

Writing tools, support, and tips.

Literature Reviews

"Literature review," "systematic literature review," "integrative literature review" -- these are terms used in different disciplines for basically the same thing -- a rigorous examination of the scholarly literature about a topic (at different levels of rigor, and with some different emphases).

1. Our library's guide to Writing a Literature Review

2. Other helpful sites

3. Welch Library's list of the types of expert reviews

Doing a good job of organizing your information makes writing about it a lot easier.
You can organize your sources using a citation manager, such as RefWorks, or use a matrix (if you only have a few references):
  • Use Google Sheets, Word, Excel, or whatever you prefer to create a table
  • The column headings should include the citation information, and the main points that you want to track, as shown
  • More pointers about using a matrix from Duquesne University

    [Attribution: This document was created by NC State University Writing and Speaking Tutorial Service Tutors during Fall 2006. Contributors were Laura Ingram, James Hussey, Michelle Tigani, and Mary Hemmelgarn. Special thanks to Stephanie Huneycutt for providing the sample matrix and paragraph.]
Synthesizing your information is not just summarizing it. Here are processes and examples about how to combine your sources into a good piece of writing:
Annotated Bibliography

An "annotation" is a note or comment.
An "annotated bibliography" is a "list of citations to books, articles, and [other items]. Each citation is followed by a brief...descriptive and evaluative paragraph, [whose purpose is] to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited."*

* Thank you to Olin Library Reference, Research & Learning Services, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY, USA

What does "peer-reviewed" mean?
  • If an article has been peer-reviewed before being published, it means that the article has been read by other people in the same field of study ("peers").
  • The author's reviewers have commented on the article, not only noting typos and possible errors, but also giving a judgment about whether or not the article should be published by the journal to which it was submitted.
How do I find "peer-reviewed" materials?
  • Most of the the research articles in scholarly journals are peer-reviewed.
  • Many databases allow you to check a box that says "peer-reviewed," or to see which results in your list of results are from peer-reviewed sources. Some of the databases that provide this are Academic Search Ultimate, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Sociological Abstracts.

What kinds of materials are *not* peer-reviewed?
  • open web pages
  • most newspapers, newsletters, and news items in journals
  • letters to the editor
  • editorials
  • press releases
  • columns and blogs
  • book reviews
  • preprints
  • anything in a popular magazine (e.g., Time, Newsweek, Glamour, Men's Health)
If a piece of information wasn't peer-reviewed, does that mean that I can't trust it at all?

No; sometimes you can. For example, the preprints submitted to well-known sites such as arXiv (mainly covering physics) and CiteSeerX (mainly covering computer science) are probably trustworthy, as are the databases and web pages produced by entities such as the National Library of Medicine, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Cancer Society.

Is this paper peer-reviewed? Ulrichsweb will tell you.

1) On the library home page , choose "Articles and Databases" --> "Databases" --> Ulrichsweb

2) Put in the title of the JOURNAL (not the article), in quotation marks so all the words are next to each other


3) Mouse over the black icon, and you'll see that it means "refereed" (which means peer-reviewed, because it's been looked at by referees or reviewers). This journal is not peer-reviewed, because none of the formats have a black icon next to it: