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ENGL 1A, Armerding: Literature Review

Intended for students in Ben Armerding's ENGL 1A class.

What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review tells who else has researched your topic and what they say about it. Its purpose is to inform readers about the range and quality of research existing on your topic, and to point the way to future research. It is not meant to argue your opinion about the topic itself  (Your Research Toolbox).

Tips for Choosing a Topic

Collage of photos of a train station, sunset over a hill, woman holding a beaker, smokestacksSelect a topic that's interesting to you - no matter how strange or off the beaten path. Students sometimes try to think of a subject they imagine will be easy, but that strategy can backfire. Since you will spend many hours thinking and learning about your topic, why not choose one that you care about? This will help you stay motivated!

A good topic also needs to be "researchable”—you need to be able to back up your topic with supporting evidence and facts. A good topic can't be answered with a simple yes or no; instead, it will give you room to explore, argue, or persuade.

If you are having difficulty selecting a topic, sometimes the best idea is to begin with a general topic and then let your background reading lead you to a more specific idea. Background research in an encyclopedia or other general source can also

  • Provide a good overview of the subject.
  • Help you identify important facts related to your topic -- dates, events, history, overviews.
  • Help you refine your topic by suggesting ways to broaden or narrow a subject
  • Identify keywords and related terms
  • Lead you to bibliographies that you can use to find additional sources of information.

Use this mini tutorial to learn how to find background information in the Foothill Library.