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Analysis and Purpose

Level of Analysis

A literature review typically requires students to summarize, synthesize and critique the literature they find in their literature search. However, instructors may opt to assign students to summarize the literature without the expectation that students should synthesize or critique. 

Level of Analysis
Level Description
Summary Briefly describe the main or relevant points of each source.
Synthesis Group information from sources into categories, themes or concepts to examine state of knowledge and/or varying perspectives on a topic.
Critique Appraise theories or hypotheses found in the literature by examining methods and results. 


Based on the level of analysis, a literature review can fulfill one or more of the following purposes. Consider which purpose(s) match your assignment's learning outcomes.


  • Understand what is known (or not known) about a research topic
  • Understand how knowledge of a topic has changed over time
  • Present the current understanding of a research topic based on concepts, categories or themes
  • Compare conceptual approaches to a topic area
  • Identify methodologies for conducting research in an topic area
  • Critique theories and perspectives on a topic