Literature is literature is literature, right? Not really! Depending on the kind of research you're doing you may need a specific type of resource. Here is one way research literature is classified:
Professional journals articles are written by professionals for professionals in their field of research. You will sometimes hear the term "peer reviewed," referring to certain types of journal articles. Articles submitted for publication are read, evaluated and approved by professionals in the field. Since the reviewers and the authors are both considered professionals in the same field of study, they are peers and hence the article is peer reviewed. These are considered to be authoritative sources of information because they are written and reviewed by experts.
In Doane's catalog, you can check a box to limit your search results to only peer reviewed articles.
Many times, research papers in masters-level courses require the student to write a literature review (AKA, the "lit review") at the beginning of the paper. A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period. Basically, it describes the work that's already been done and reported on the topic.
A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
While the main focus of an academic research paper is to support your own argument, the focus of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others. The academic research paper also covers a range of sources, but it is usually a select number of sources, because the emphasis is on the argument. Likewise, a literature review can also have an "argument," but it is not as important as covering a number of sources. In short, an academic research paper and a literature review contain some of the same elements. In fact, many academic research papers will contain a literature review section. But it is the aspect of the study (the argument or the sources) that is emphasized that determines what type of document it is.
Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper's investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.
Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself.
Excerpt from “Literature Reviews” from The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos/specific-writing-assignments/literature-reviews), 2007.