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Research Process: Literature review

This guide gives a full overview of all the aspects of the research process and where to get assistance.

Literature review

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books and other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works.

It should be designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits into the larger field of study.

A literature review may consist of simple a summary of key sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.

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 in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem.

Generic literature review


Critical review


Systematic review




The following criteria are important when one evaluate your literature review:

  • Exhaustive in its coverage of the main aspects of the study
  • Fair in its treatment of author
  • Topical and not dated
  • Based on scientific journals and books (not Internet sources only!)

Examples of average number of references 

Humanities Masters                  170                                                                                                                
Humanities Doctorate              


Social Sciences Masters         93
Social Sciences Doctorate        320
Health Sciences Masters 28
Health Sciences Doctorate 200
Science Masters 96
Science Doctorate 172
Engineering Masters 70
Engineering Doctorate 110