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Writing Guide

Literature Review

Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to offer a comprehensive review of scholarly literature on a specific topic along with an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of authors' arguments. In other words, you are summarizing research available on a certain topic and then drawing conclusions about researchers' findings. To make gathering research easier, be sure to start with a narrow/specific topic and then widen your topic if necessary.

A thorough literature review provides an accurate description of current knowledge on a topic and identifies areas for future research.  Are there gaps or areas that require further study and exploration? What opportunities are there for further research? What is missing from my collection of resources? Are more resources needed?

It is important to note that conclusions described in the literature you gather may contradict each other completely or in part.  Recognize that knowledge creation is collective and cumulative.  Current research is built upon past research findings and discoveries.  Research may bring previously accepted conclusions into question.  A literature review presents current knowledge on a topic and may point out various academic arguments within the discipline.

Find additional information as well as a graphic organizer and video in the FAQ:

From the Online Library

Selecting a research topic can be overwhelming.  Consider following these steps:

1. Brainstorm research topic ideas

      - Free write: Set a timer for five minutes and write down as many ideas as you can in the allotted time

      - Mind-Map to explore how ideas are related

2. Prioritize topics based on personal interest and curiosity

3. Pre-research

      - Explore encyclopedias and reference books for background information on the topic

      - Perform a quick database or Google search on the topic to explore current issues. 

4. Focus the topic by evaluating how much information is available on the topic

         -Too much information?  Consider narrowing the topic by focusing on a specific issue 

         - Too little information?  Consider broadening the topic 

5. Determine your purpose by considering whether your research is attempting to:

         - further the research on this topic

         - fill a gap in the research

         - support existing knowledge with new evidence

         - take a new approach or direction

         - question or challenge existing knowledge

6. Finalize your research question

NOTE:  Be aware that your initial research question may change as you conduct research on your topic.

Research on your topic should be conducted in the academic literature.  Access leading Rasmussen University Online Library contains subject-focused databases that contain the leading academic journals in your programmatic area.

Consult the Using the Online Library video tutorials for information about how to effectively search library databases.

Need help starting your research? Make a research appointment with a Rasmussen Librarian.

TIP: Document as you research.  Begin building your references list using either:

Recommended programmatic databases include:

Data Science

Healthcare Management

Human Resources


You have completed your research and discovered many, many academic articles on your topic.  The next step includes evaluating and organizing the literature found in the research process.

As you review, keep in mind that there are three types of research studies:

Consider these questions as you review the articles you have gathered through the research process:

1. Does the study relate to your topic?

2. Were sound research methods used in conducting the study?

3. Does the research design fit the research question? What variables were chosen? Was the sample size adequate?

4. What conclusions were drawn?  Do the authors point out areas for further research?


Once research has been completed, it is time to structure the literature review and begin summarizing and synthesizing information.  The following steps may help with this process:

  • Consider various ways to organize the literature discovered in the research process:
    • Chronological
    • By trend
    • By theme
    • By research method used
  • Compare and contrast sources
    • Explore contradictory or conflicting conclusions
    • Take a stance on the issue and use the research to support that stance
      • Read each study critically
      • Critique methodology, processes, and conclusions
      • Consider how the study relates to your topic