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Conference on Undergraduate Research and Engagement (CURE): What & Why of Literature Reviews

Information and resources to help participants prepare for the Conference on Undergraduate Research

What Is a Literature Review and Why Do I Need One?

A literature review IS an overview of published writings on a specific topic that helps you:

  • Develop an understanding of the majors issues, ideas, and central texts in a particular field of study
  • Demonstrate relationships amongst the prior research
  • Identifies gaps and discrepancies

A literature review is NOT:

  • A summary of the sources
  • An annotated bibliography

Searching the Literature

Have a plan and be methodical:

  • Use library resources, such as the NIU Library Catalog or Academic Databases (including Subject-Specific databases focused on your field of study)
  • Learn the lingo--start with keyword searching, and then use Subject Headings to find the most relevant material
  • Talk to your faculty mentor to find out what are the classic or seminal studies on the topic
  • Consult with your Subject-Specialist Librarian to find even more resources

Read, Select, Critique, and Cite

Read selectively, but do pay special attention to the


Introduction / Review of Literature / Background 


Findings / Results 

Conclusions / Discussion Implications

Select articles that are relevant to your topic

Critique the research with your thesis in mind​, paying attention to methodology and areas for further research

Cite using the appropriate style for your discipline--even if you do not have a formal literature review as part of your poster, you should still include a list of references; think about using a Citation Management Tool to keep track of your research


Literature Reviews Across the Disciplines

Different disciplines, different types of literature reviews, but the same basic process.

  • Sciences--Contends with the ever-increasing output of scientific publications
  • Health Sciences--Emphasis on evidence-based practice
  • Social Sciences & Humanities--Focus on surveying the history of the literature

Citation Management Tools