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SWK 540: Social Work Research Methods: The Literature Review in Social Work

APA Manual

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A Literature Review establishes the connection between your proposed research and existing research; it gathers the information together as a "whole" rather than as a set of reviews.

A literature review helps your reader understand:

  • Your proposed topic.
  • What has already been investigated in this topic area.
  • Provides a summary/synthesis of the sequence and growth of knowledge in this topic.

As you survey the previous research on a subject, you may be able to identify areas which have not yet been investigated. 

Keep in Mind

A literature review is not simply a survey of one author or researcher after another; there needs to be a selection process with some criteria in place to determine which articles, dissertations, thesis, etc., to include and exclude in the review.

  • Your Literature review should have a planned structure to it; one which is clearly evident to the reader, whether the structure is topical, date-oriented, or uses some other framework
  • It should NOT strictly consist of summaries

  • It should reflect your ability to analyze and discuss others' research

  • It will probably need to be organized using sections and subheadings

  • It will usually cover key research and areas which have been important, as well as trends indicating future importance in the field of study




  1. Select your topic
  2. Search for articles on that topic
    1. Make sure that at least 5 are "empirical" articles
    2. Try to use articles that are less than 5 years old; ask your professor about any that are older.
  3. Read and take notes on the articles you have selected. Use the matrix in your syllabus (see sample, below) to document the citation, the main ideas/themes, etc. from each article.