'Literature review' is a generic term that is often used to describe various types of reviews. However, each type of review has a distinct purpose. Two broad categories of reviews (traditional and systematic) are briefly discussed below.
Traditional Literature Reviews
For a course assignment, you may be asked to locate academic sources for a topic and then write (synthesize/paraphrase/cite) a paper that incorporates sources (literature) you selected. Or, if you are working on a research project for a thesis or dissertation, you most often will need to conduct a more thorough or comprehensive search of the literature to write (synthesize/paraphrase/cite) a literature review chapter that discusses sources related to your research questions. Traditional (narrative) reviews are most often used in these examples.
Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91–108.
Systematic Literature Reviews
Systematic reviews may use quantitative, qualitative, or mixed research methods and aim to be comprehensive in gathering sources. They follow specific protocols and adhere to transparent and reproducible procedures to conduct searches and report evidence that may be used for health or policy related decisions.
Higgins, J. P. T., Thomas, J., Chandler, J., Cumpston, M., Li, T., Page, M. J., & Welch, V. A. (Eds.). (2019). Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions (2nd ed.). The Cochrane Collaboration.
For more information about systematic review methods, please see our guide Systematic Reviews for Social Sciences & Education.