VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Humphrey Fellows Program

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an essential component of every research project. It requires “re-viewing” what credible scholars in the field have said, done, and found in order to help you:

  • Identify what is currently known in your area of interest
  • Establish an empirical/ theoretical/ foundation for your research
  • Identify potential gaps in knowledge that you might fill
  • Develop viable research questions and hypotheses
  • Determine appropriate methodologies
  • Decide upon the scope of your research
  • Demonstrate the importance of your research to the field
A literature review is NOT a descriptive annotated bibliography. All works included in the review must be read, evaluated, and analyzed, and synthesized, meaning that relationships between the works must also be discussed.

What goes into a Literature Review?

Sources for a literature review include: 
  • peer-reviewed research articles (empirical studies)
  • peer-reviewed theoretical articles
  • peer-reviewed literature reviews on the topic
  • scholarly books and book chapters

What counts as a scholarly/ peer-reviewed article?

Generally, when an assignment requires that a specific number of peer-reviewed articles be included, the following do not count toward the required number because they are NOT peer-reviewed

  • book reviews that appear in scholarly journals 
  • editorials that appear in scholarly journals 

What is Grey Literature?

  • It is an important supplement to peer-reviewed literature in many fields and professions
  • Includes research reports, policy statements, manuals, issues papers, conference proceedings, and more.
  • Is produced on all levels (local, national, international) of government, academics, business, and industry. Examples include documents from the United Nations | World Health Organization | National drug policy documents | Country Profiles | manuals available from organization or agency websites, etc.
  • Is NOT controlled by commercial publishers. Therefore, it is not typically found in scholarly databases and is usually freely available to the public.