Skip to Main Content

MBA 510: Managerial Research Methods & Design

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a paper that summarizes and synthesizes existing research in a particular subject area. In many cases, a literature review gives the reader an understanding of current research and shows where the researcher is entering the academic conversation.

The distinction between a narrative literature review and a problem identification literature review is defined in Machi & McEvoy's The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success (p. 3-5). Be aware that this distinction has been referred to as "basic vs. advanced" and "simple vs. complex" literature reviews in previous editions of this book. 

Narrative Lit Reviews

Key elements of a narrative literature review:

  • A literature review that summarizes and synthesizes what is known on a topic
  • Centered around a thesis statement or research question that guides the review
  • Ends with a conclusion that summarizes key findings and ties them back to the thesis

Tip: Read the introduction and conclusion of the article. If the author(s) discuss the literature only as it relates to their thesis statement -- without asking new questions for future study -- you're looking at a narrative literature review.

Problem Identification Lit Reviews

Problem Identification literature reviews include many of the features of narrative reviews, but differ by going one step further:

  • After summarizing and synthesizing the research, these reviews often end by posing new questions for future study
  • The author(s) may also describe the research methods for answering these questions in a new research study

Tip: Skip to the conclusion. If the author(s) end the paper by asking questions and proposing potential new studies for the future, you're looking at a problem identification literature review.

Searching for Literature Reviews

Literature reviews are scholarly sources, so library databases are great places to start your search.

Search Tips

Use Literature Review as a Keyword in Your Search

  • Literature reviews often state in the title or abstract if the article is a literature review, and databases also often use the term "Literature Reviews" as a Subject to help classify and organize articles
  • Since databases look for exact word matches in articles, you can use this to your advantage

Example of a database search using "literature review" as a keyword


Read an Article's Conclusion to differentiate between Narrative or Problem Identification Lit Reviews

  • The main difference between a Narrative and Problem Identification lit review is whether the authors simply summarize how a topic has been covered in relation to their thesis or if they take an additional step and propose questions for future study
  • Skip to the article's conclusion section (generally at the end of the article, above the reference list)
  • For Problem Identification lit reviews, look for additional questions or future research opportunities, such as the example in the screenshot below:

Example of a Problem Identification literature review with a section titled "Future Research"