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Understanding APA Literature Reviews

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Teachers often assign research papers to students, especially literature reviews. Literature reviews may be part of a larger research paper or stand alone on their own. Since conducting original research and writing a paper about it takes considerable time, instructors often require students prepare papers such as compare and contrast, critical essays or literature reviews instead.

What is a Literature Review?

Although a literature review is considered a summary of previous research, it is more than that. You must select sources that move the research forward and then suggest ways that help other researchers move the subject forward. For example, if you are preparing a literature review for your sociology class, you may choose a topic such as bullying and social media or the gender wage gap.

students learning about research project

Researching Your Topic

As you research those topics, check the dates of the articles, websites and books you’re reading as you want the most current information. However, you may want to start by referencing studies from several years back and then finding newer sources. Gaining understanding of how bullying and social media develops, strengthens your argument. After you find your sources and develop your thesis, you can conclude your school paper by suggesting new areas of research.

If you include a literature review as part of a larger research paper, that section appears after the introduction. The research sources in the literature review section back up your thesis statement and are relevant to the arguments you present in the rest of your school research paper.

Organizing Your Literature Review

An APA style paper is organized in the author-date style. This means you cite the author’s name and year of publication within the text (in-text citation) along with the page number, if appropriate. You then include the full information of that source in a reference list at the end of your paper. As a reference list contains only those sources you used within the text of your paper, every in-text citation must match with a reference list entry.

Example

In a seminal 1992 interpretation of the collection of The Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) from an African-American perspective, artist Fred Wilson created an installation by re-juxtaposing objects and documents from the collection. The title of the exhibition, Mining the Museum, reflected the process— mining the collection for items, most of which were in storage as well as the emerging theme—a representation of history that felt more “mine” to the artist than that previously presented.

In “How Mining the Museum Changed the Art World” (2017), Maryland Institute College of Art curator Kerr Houston wrote that Wilson’s installation permanently changed the way MdHS presented their collection. For example, Wilson added a spotlight illuminating the image of an enslaved boy in the shadows of a portrait of a white child. The MdHS now recognizes the enslaved child as well as the white child in its labeling and cataloging of the painting.

LaPierre, S. S. (2019). Contemporary art and historical archives: Collaborations and convergences in a digital multicultural age. School of Information Student Research Journal, 9(1). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/slissrj/vol9/iss1/4.

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About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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