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Visual Arts and Technology Capstone Project

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

Writing Help

Books from Samuel C. Williams Library

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