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HED 373 - Evaluation and Research Design

Literature Reviews

What is a Literature Review?

Think of scholarly papers like a conversation. A paper takes a look at what people are saying on a particular topic and then adds something new to the conversation based on their own research. A literature review is how scholars get caught up on the conversation so they will know what to say or ask next.

A literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. When writing a literature review, you should:

  • Let the sources talk (what claims do they make; paraphrasing & brief quotes)
  • Say what the sources said (summary)
  • Interpret the meaning of the conversation (synthesis)

Note: A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates.

What is a Research Question?

A research question is what forms and guides your literature review. It is the question that you want the literature to answer for you. A research question should be specific, focused, and concise.

To develop a research question, start with a general topic of interest to you. You'll want to do some preliminary and background research on this topic to think through what specific questions you might have.


Sample Topic: concussions among high school athletes

Sample Research Question: Does cognitive rest improve recovery time among high school athletes with sports-related concussions?


Need more guidance on developing your topic into a research question? Check out this video from the library at Northern Kentucky University.

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