Why search for a “literature review” or “annotated bibliography”?

College research ain’t easy. It’s nothing like the papers from high school, because the training wheels are off. You are part of the academic conversation. New vocabulary, technical writing, and using citations to talk with scholars/professors about proof you have done your homework behind the thoughts.

Luckily, while not a short-cut, there is a wise tool to add to your skillset. In the library’s databases, you can search
“Literature review” AND “your topic”

Remember to use the double quote mark to help the computer ignore:

  1. literature without the reviews, 
  2. reviews that aren’t about your topic, and
  3. Articles that mention your topic but are not “literature reviews.”  (the image below is of a Venn diagram of literature AND review– with a subcircle inside the overlap for  “literature review” )

A literature review is written by a scholar to acknowledge the fundamental articles, books, and authors in a particular topic. A literature review may not say much about each piece, only direct you to who said it best, who said it first, or who argued and split ways, establishing a new field. A literature review is a single essay with multiple works mentioned in footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations, collected per idea or concept.

A small circle inside the overlap between two circles.

Literature AND Review vs. “Literature Review” in search results.

You may have heard of (or been assigned to write an) annotated bibliography. It is similar to a literature review, but not the same. The annotated bibliography is more like a dictionary. Each article or book is mentioned individually. An author may appear in several separate entries. Each entry begins with the full citation and has a sentence or so highlighting why it is important to the field or relevant to this topic.  

In the end, finding a literature review or annotated bibliography on your topic is like finding Cliff’s Notes or a game’s walkthrough video. You still have to do the work, but now you can see where to start.

Try out Oxford Bibliographies or Annual Reviews.