Literature Review

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hey there, bruins! today, your friends at the ucla library are here to help you understand and create the ever mysterious literature review. by the end of this video, you’ll be able to: define a literature review, describe your role as the author of a lit review, and match the type of lit review to your research needs. let’s say we’re trying to figure out how to make human life on mars possible — before we can start building rockets, though, we have to figure out what people already know about mars, humans, and the potential for human life in outer space. the engineers on campus wonder, how do we sustainably design and build rocket ships that can move large groups of people to space? campus environmental scientists ask, what about the possible environmental impacts on mars that human occupation would bring? social science communities inquire, what is at stake in international relations with regards to space travel and mars colonization? health scientists ask, what are the health implications of all that time in space?

humanities students wonder, what are the moral implications of colonizing another planet? a comprehensive literature review is exactly what each of these campus groups need. sometimes you may only want to know about a selective, narrow aspect of a topic. but each discipline in this example needs to map out everything they can — what is currently known and what is not known yet about living on mars — before collectively attempting a voyage. each group can start by gathering information written and published by reliable sources: scholarly articles, datasets, books, and more. the engineers dive deep into the web of science and social science students had to proquest. all of the groups consult their subject librarians. it’s a lot of information though. merely knowing what each source says will not be enough. how do you make sense of it all?

fortunately creating a literature review involves more than writing summaries! some articles are related and build off of each other, and some articles contradict each other. some books seem to have outdated methods, and some datasets are questionable. as the author of a literature review, you have to take bits and pieces figure out relationships and context and start putting the bigger picture together. what does this article contribute to our knowledge? how did they get their information, and what does it mean? why might some articles disagree with each other? as you ask and answer these questions, you start to piece together the lay of the land. the connections you make and the conclusions you draw spark an understanding much deeper than just assembling summaries. as the author of a literature review, you’re a cartographer mapping out everything that’s known about your research question.

along the way, you’ll probably make some surprising discoveries about gaps in the collective knowledge. what do you do with your literature review now that you have finished it? in our example, the different disciplines on campus would use their completed literature reviews to inform the next stages of their research. it can be a standalone document detailing the current state of a field of research: you get to share not only where people have been before you and how they got there, but also where people need to go next. it can also be part of a bigger piece of writing to put research and arguments into a broader context. the review can demonstrate the need for your individual research as part of a thesis or capstone project. looking for help with the next steps? stop by one of our many library locations or the writing center to set up a consultation!

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