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Grants for Graduate Students

This guide offers resources for graduate students seeking external funding.

Your Literature Review

A literature review identifies, summarizes and synthesizes the previously published work on your subject of interest.  Your synthesis is key in providing new interpretations of the studies, demonstrating gaps, or discussing flaws in the existing studies.  The literature review can be organized by categories or in the order of your research questions/hypotheses. 

While you have been including literature reviews in your research papers and collecting citations for your dissertation, the literature review for a grant proposal is shorter and includes only those studies that are essential in showing your study’s importance.

When you are the researcher:

                The literature review establishes your credibility to conduct the study in your grant proposal.  It indicates your knowledge of the subject and how your study fits into the larger realms of your discipline.

When you are the reader:

                The literature review benefits you as the reader by providing an overview of the subject of interest and describing current research.  This can be very helpful at the exploration stage when you are developing your ideas.  Literature reviews are written in a formal, distinctive style which you will absorb as you read and be able to replicate more easily when you write.  When you are near the end of your library research, the literature review might be helpful in determining how thorough you have been.  You will know if you have included all relevant studies.

The Literature Review Process

Paula Neves' helpful document on the literature review process:

What is a Literature Review?

  • Can be a stand alone text or part of a larger work
  • Can be one of the first sections of an academic paper or article

The Functions of a Literature Review:

  • Should not be aimless or entire summary
  • Must be relevant summary
  • Summarizes and organizes each work’s ideas around a specific topic or argument
    • Organizes and synthesizes
    • Includes a critical analysis of the relationship among different texts with an eye to your paper’s argument or purpose
  • Features current relevant literature

How to Write a Literature Review (redacted and adapted from “Guidelines for writing a literature review” by Helen Mongan-Rallis. at

  1. Write in proper format (e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)
  1. Decide on a topic
  1. Identify the literature for review
    1. Use relevant databases
    2. Redefine topic as needed
    3. Include classic studies in your field and/or those relevant to your topic
    4. Import literature into RefWorks or similar sources management software (check your institution’s library website)
  1. Analyze and categorize the literature (skim the articles, especially the abstracts).
    1. Identify key words, patterns, strengths and weaknesses as they relate to/support your topic
    2. Identify key quotes
    3. Evaluate for currency: depending on your field, literature should be no older than 5-10 years but can include classic studies prior to this if they are relevant to your topic.
  1. Synthesize
    1. Identify the topic or problem but avoid generalizations
    2. Early on, indicate why the topic being discussed is important
    3. Organize the works around this topic—include most relevant studies first
    4. Indicate why certain studies are important, incomplete or problematic but only if their information is substantively related to your topic
    5. Highlight and organize findings around their relevance to your topic
    6. Indicate why the time frame is important
    7. If using a classic study or studies indicate why their inclusion is important or relevant
  1. Organize the body of the Lit Review
    1. Include an overview and the purpose at the beginning (intro and thesis)
    2. Mention what will and won’t be covered and why (part intro and possibly thesis)
    3. Organize your review so that the works included logically support the thesis—though all works include should be important and relevant, further organize thesis from least to most relevant
    4. Use transitions and subheadings if needed (i.e. for longer papers)
    5. Include a conclusion

Additional resources

APA style sample Lit Review:


Guide from the University of North Carolina's Writing Center:


Guide from the University of California: Santa Clara:

Wesleyan University Library guide including extensive information about

the types of literature reviews:


This section of the guide was originally created by Ann Watkins.


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