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EDUC 451 Infant & Toddler Group Care and Curriculum

Why review the literature?

Reference to prior literature is a defining feature of academic and research writing. Why review the literature?

  • To help you understand a research topic
  • To establish the importance of a topic
  • To help develop your own ideas
  • To make sure you are not simply replicating research that others have already successfully completed
  • To demonstrate knowledge and show how your current work is situated within, builds on, or departs from earlier publications

Feak, C. B., Swales, J. M., Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2009). Telling a research story: Writing a literature review. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press.

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students by North Carolina State University Libraries

Primary sources

The term primary source is used broadly to embody all sources that are original. Primary sources provide first-hand information that is closest to the object of study. Primary sources vary by discipline.

  • In the natural and social sciences, original reports of research found in academic journals detailing the methodology used in the research, in-depth descriptions, and discussions of the findings are considered primary sources of information.
  • Other common examples of primary sources include speeches, letters, diaries, autobiographies, interviews, official reports, court records, artifacts, photographs, and drawings. 

Galvan, J. L. (2013). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences. Glendale, CA: Pyrczak.

Persaud, N. (2010). Primary data source. In N. Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of research design. (pp. 1095-1098). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Secondary sources

A secondary source is a source that provides non-original or secondhand data or information. 

  • Secondary sources are written about primary sources.
  • Research summaries reported in textbooks, magazines, and newspapers are considered secondary sources. They typically provide global descriptions of results with few details on the methodology. Other examples of secondary sources include biographies and critical studies of an author's work.

Galvan, J. L. (2013). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences. Glendale, CA: Pyrczak.

Secondary Source. (2005). In W. Paul Vogt (Ed.), Dictionary of Statistics & Methodology. (3rd ed., p. 291). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Weidenborner, S., & Caruso, D. (1997). Writing research papers: A guide to the process. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Five Steps to creating a literature review


Choose a topic with care, making sure not to choose one that is too broad or too narrow. Choose something that you have interest in, as you will be spending a lot of time with it. Your topic might get refined as time goes on depending on what the literature says. For instance, there might not be much information on your topic or there might be a lot of negative information. You can be prepared for this as long as you have a solid topic.


Create a research plan. This is not like writing a paper where you might need five articles, two books and perhaps a website resource. You will need to do a lot of research for this assignment. Create a list of different keywords or write up a paragraph about your topic and pull keywords from there. You are going to need to be prepared to find and read many articles. Plan to utilize multiple databases and resources to find research material.



This is the part where you read, review, and write your first draft. You need to check articles for connections to each other, what arguments are made, and how they are different. A literature review is NOT like a book review where you just produce a summary of each article. You are looking at these articles as a body of work and seeing how they are the same, how they are different, and what conclusions you can draw from this. Identify themes and concepts. You must use your critical thinking skills to produce a review that demonstrates you understand the scholarly works as a whole.

Because literature reviews convey so much information in a condensed space, it is important to organize your review in a way that helps readers make sense of the studies you are reporting on. Two common approaches to literature reviews are chronological—ordering studies from oldest to most recent—and topical—grouping studies by subject or theme.


You will be keeping track of a lot of different citations so you will want to use a Citation Tracker such as Zotero. You can learn more about this tool on the Zotero guide.


Finally, make sure to leave time to revise. Take the time to review your work and have a friend or a third party review as well.