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CAL 301: Seminar in Writing and Research

Resources for Music & Technology students working on their senior projects.

What and Why

What is a lit review?

  • A summary of the relevant literature of a subject
    • Depending on your subject and your field, can be chronologically broad or narrow
    • Sciences tend to emphasize currency
  • BUT in whatever field, if there is some fundamental text that defined the field or topic of study, that must be included no matter how old it is
  • Ranges from a few paragraphs to a few pages
    • Or can be extended into a paper solely reviewing recent literature

Why write a lit review?

  • “Analyzing the past to prepare for the future”*
  • To discover the patterns that emerge within the large body of work devoted to one issue
    • How do the studies speak to each other?  Does one find one thing and another find something contradictory?  Does one ask a question that another follows up?
  • To establish an evidentiary basis of common thought and current questions about a subject at the given moment

*(Webster, J., & Watson, R. (2002). Analyzing the past to prepare for the future: Writing a literature review. MIS Quarterly, 26(2), xiii-xxiii)

How to Write a Lit Review

Analyze! Evaluate! Synthesize!*


  • Keep an eye out for:
    • Pertinent info – who/what/where/when/why
    • Page numbers if you quote something (for easy transfer into your paper!)
    • Numbers (not just “increase/decrease” but “up 50%” or “down 24%”)


  • What seems to occur regularly? -- Patterns
  • What issue has no one written about yet?


  • Use your spreadsheet (or whatever means by which you keep your articles organized) to sort the articles by pattern or theme
  • Write what you found into a linear narrative, tying all the studies together by their subject matter and findings, grouping certain studies by pattern/theme
  • Quote if necessary but sparingly
  • Keep it succinct -- it’s a lot of material but it’s not the bulk of your paper (unless it’s your whole paper!)

*Froese, A. D., Gantz, B. S., & Henry, A. L. (1998). Teaching students to write literature reviews: A meta-analytic model. Teaching of Psychology 25, pp. 102-105.

One Way to Track Your Readings

Below you'll find a template of an Excel spreadsheet you can use to keep track of what you read and use in your paper. Please feel free to adapt it however you see fit, if you find it to be of use to you.

Writing Help

Books from Samuel C. Williams Library

The books here all include mention of lit reviews and how to do them.