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Literature Reviews

Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

It is…. a systematic and critical analysis of the literature on a specific topic. It describes trends, quality, relationships, inconsistencies and gaps in the research; and it details how the works enhance your understanding of the topic at large.

It is NOT…. simply an annotated bibliography that summarizes and/or assesses each article. There is not one, correct way to approach and write a literature review. It can be a stand-alone paper or part of a thesis/dissertation. Format and requirements can vary between disciplines, purpose and intended audience.

A literature review is an overview of existing literature (books, articles, dissertations, conference proceedings, and other sources) in a particular scholarly area. With a lit review, you will:

  • Gather information about your topic, including the sources used by others who have previously conducted research
  • Find out if your specific research question has already been answered
  • Find out what areas or perspectives have not yet been covered by others on your topic
  • Analyze and evaluate existing information

The literature review will assist you in considering the validity and scope of your research question so that you can do the necessary revision and fine tuning to it. It provides the foundation to formulate and present strong arguments to justify your chosen research topic.

Check out these books from the library for further guidance:


  • Després, Carole. "The meaning of home: literature review and directions for future research and theoretical development." Journal of architectural and planning research 8, no.2, (Summer 1991): 96-155.
  • Steiner, Frederick R. "Philadelphia, the holy experiment: A literature review and analysis." Ekistics, 49, (1982): 298-305.

Reckoning with Authorities

As you are developing your Lit Review, part of your objective is to identify the leading authorities within the field or who address your topic or theme. Some tips for identifying the scholars:

Old Fashioned Method:

  • Keep notes on footnotes and names as you read articles, books, blogs, exhibition catalogs, etc. Are there names or works that everyone references? Use the catalog to track these reference down.
  • Consider looking for state of the field articles often found either in a discipline's primary journal or in conference proceedings - keynote speakers.
  • Look for book reviews.

Publication Metrics:

  • These resources include information about the frequency of citations for an article/author.
  • These resources are not specifically for Architecture or Planning. Remember therefore to be critical and careful about the assumptions you make with regard to the results!

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