What is a literature review?
A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area. It can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually combines both summary and synthesis. 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. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
Writing a literature review
A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. As you read widely in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different arguments? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing, or lingering questions? Do they reveal a debate? You may want to pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.
(This section was adapted from the University of North Carolina Writing Center's Guide to Literature Reviews.)
Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix