Your goal in a literature review is to present and analyze the literature about a particular topic. In research and grant proposals, literature reviews show the gaps in knowledge your study or project will address.
Each source in a lit review is a piece of a larger puzzle. You'll want to discover:
Which sources talk about what part of your topic?
Where do your sources agree?
Where do your sources contradict one another or show lack of consensus?
Where are the gaps in knowledge about your topic?
How did research on your topic develop over time?
You can write a literature review in 7 steps:
1. Make friends with your subject librarian. We're always happy to help!
2. Refine your research topic. Do a preliminary search to see what you find, then narrow your topic based on what turns up. You can even read other literature reviews (standalone articles or at the beginning of articles) to get your footing.
3. Select appropriate search tools. These might include specialized subject databases, Google Scholar, the library catalog, etc.
4. Conduct your search thoroughly and strategically. Consult with a librarian to help you develop keywords and search strings, use subject searching and filtering to your advantage, and track down full text of sources.
5. Choose what sources to use. Make sure you're capturing multiple perspectives on your issue or topic, not just a narrow view. In a comprehensive, "systematic review" you'll need to be rigorous about inclusion/exclusion criteria.
6. Read, annotate, analyze, and synthesize. Make your reading an active process by highlighting and taking notes. Consider using a matrix to organize your sources and identify scholarly conversations.
7. Write! Remember that your voice has a place in this conversation. Your analysis and organization is the glue of the lit review. Ask for feedback on your work from your instructor, peers, and librarian.