What is a literature review and why is it important?
A literature review not only summarizes the knowledge of a particular area or field of study, it also evaluates what has been done, what still needs to be done and why all of this is important to the subject.
The Stand-Alone Literature Review
A literature review may stand alone as an individual document in which the history of the topic is reported and then analyzed for trends, controversial issues, and what still needs to be studied. The review could just be a few pages for narrow topics or quite extensive with long bibliographies for in-depth reviews. In-depth review articles are valuable time-savers for professionals and researchers who need a quick introduction or analysis of a topic but they can be very time-consuming for authors to produce.
Examples of review articles:
Walker, Sara Louise (2011) Building mounted wind turbines and their suitability for the urban scale - a review of methods of estimating urban wind resource. Energy and Buildings 43(8):1852-1862.
For this review, the author focused on the different methodologies used to estimate wind speed in urban settings. After introducing the theory, she explained the difficulty for in-situ measuring, and then followed up by describing each of the different estimation techniques that have been used instead. Strengths and weaknesses of each method are discussed and suggestions are given on where more study is needed. Length: 11 pages. References: 59.
The Literature Review as a Section Within a Document
Literature reviews are also part of dissertations, theses, research reports and scholarly journal articles; these types of documents include the review in a section or chapter that discusses what has gone before, how the research being presented in this document fills a gap in the field's knowledge and why that is important.
Examples of literature reviews within a journal article:
Which version you choose (separate section or within the introduction) depends on format requirements of the publisher (for journal articles), the ASU Graduate College and your academic unit (for ASU dissertations and theses) and application instructions for grants. If no format is specified choose the method in which you can best explain your research topic, what has come before and the importance of the knowledge you are adding to the field.
Examples of literature reviews within a dissertation or thesis:
Note that the literature review within a thesis or dissertation more closely resembles the scope and depth of a stand- alone literature review as opposed to the briefer reviews appearing within journal articles. Within a thesis or dissertation, the review not only presents the status of research in the specific area it also establishes the author's expertise and justifies his/her own research.