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What is a literature review?

Purpose:  This paper gives you the opportunity to examine an area of our everyday communication in a more in-depth manner by finding, reading, and analyzing original, scholarly sources on a topic of interest to you.  My hope is also that you learn how to write a good literature review that will help you in your future writing assignments.

What is a literature review?  A literature review is an examination of the published work by researchers and scholars on a given topic.  A literature review should synthesize the information from the existing literature and organize it in a meaningful way.  It is not a separate summary of each source or article.  Additionally, a literature review should offer a critique of the existing literature, such as by discussing the strengths and weaknesses as well as areas that are in need of further investigation.

Description:  This assignment lets you examine an area that we have read about and/or talked about in class (or will cover in the future) in more detail.  You will find and read at least three original, scholarly research articles.  By scholarly, I mean that the articles should come from published peer-reviewed journals, NOT magazines, newspapers, conference papers, dissertations/theses, or books.  Some good journals to look at are Communication Monographs, Journal of Communication, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and Personal Relationships, to name a few. Your last two sources may be from non journal sources.In total yor paper should have at least 5 sources.  If you have any questions about whether your sources are appropriate, please ask me.

In your paper, you should synthesize the studies and articles that you have examined, focusing on the major findings.  You must carefully read the entirety of each article, but you should focus especially on the Discussion section.  Please note my use of the word synthesize.  I do not want a separate summary of each article; rather, I want you to present an overall picture of what you have learned from studying a small body of literature on this particular aspect of our everyday communication.  Your paper should be organized into three thematic subsections, each with a clear and separate heading.  Some questions that may be useful to think about are:  What questions is the research trying to answer?  What connections or similarities do you see between these studies?  What contexts were examined?  Are the findings consistent with each other?  How are the studies different?

An important part of every literature review is a critique of the literature.  You should consider what the studies that you reviewed did well and what was limiting about the studies you reviewed. It is often helpful to carefully review the Method section when critiquing the literature.  You can also think about gaps in the research overall when constructing your critique.  Your critique of the literature will be a separate, labeled section and will lead up to at least one Research Question or Hypothesis.


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