I have read several articles about literature reviews. At the same time I found some guides about literature surveys. I am confused... how is a literature survey different from a literature review? What is the standard procedure to conduct a literature survey without making it a literature review?

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. You have a couple of different questions in your post. We encourage multiple posts for multiple questions. See our tour and help center pages. Your questions about literature surveys and reviews are closely related and match the title. You should make a second post about how to pursue research given your background, since that it unrelated.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


Reviewing the literature relevant to a given field is a standard part of doing research, as this serves to put your work into the context of the larger discipline in which you are working.

If there is an actual difference between the "literature survey" and the "literature review," it's that the latter can serve as a paper in and of itself, and is much more extensive than a literature survey, which is typically a major part of the introduction of a research paper.

The literature review as a standalone article could be compared to a "curated" overview of the literature in the field—who has done what, how do papers relate to one another, and what are the most important present and (possibly) future directions of work in such a field. Such papers can also be considerably longer than a traditional research paper, and some reviews might cite as many as a thousand references!

In comparison, the literature survey of a standard research article is usually much shorter (1-2 journal pages), and will not cite nearly as many papers (anywhere from 10 to 100, depending on the topic and the amount of relevant literature available).

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    Hi thanks for your comment. But I m still confused. I have seen survey papers are published and I have seen literature review sections in thesis. I mean aren't survey papers related to computer science are literature reviews ?
    – Npn
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 14:51
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    In general, "review paper" is much more commonly used than "survey paper." Maybe CS prefers "survey paper," but essentially, there's no substantial difference between them. But every paper includes some sort of synopsis of existing literature; in a review or survey paper, it's the entire paper.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 15:12
  • Thanks ,I understood that review papers should be read to do a research.
    – Npn
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 15:30

Well, I have written couple of survery/review articles published in prestigious journals here, here, and here and hence I think I can give you some hint on this question.

First View: One of the most important things to consider is that, these terms have been used differently in varied academic disciplines and even in some cases they are used interchangeably with negligible differences. Even in CS (my field), the way image processing scholars look at these terms may be different from networking researchers (I once experienced the comments I received from experts in image processing and realize how different they look at the works). So it might not be wrong if consider insignificant differences between these two terms.

What I describe here may be more applicable to CS. There are two different views at these terms that I describe here

Technically a feasible description around these two terms is that in survey works you should review the published papers and analyze, summarize, organize, and present findings in a novel way that can generate an original view to a certain aspect of the domain. For example, if researchers review the available research findings and conclude that electrical cars are emission-free vehicles, another researcher can review the same results and present an argument that building batteries themselves produce huge emission. The second contribution opens door for new research around emission-free production of car batteries. If we consider that survey paper is the result of literature survey, we can use the following definitions from CS journals.

  • According to the definition of survey paper provided by IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials journal (one of the best CS journals), "The term survey, as applied here, is defined to mean a survey of the literature. A survey article should provide a comprehensive review of developments in a selected area".
  • In ACM Computing Survey (another prestigious CS journal), survey paper is described as “A paper that summarizes and organizes recent research results in a novel way that integrates and adds understanding to work in the field. A survey article emphasizes the classification of the existing literature, developing a perspective on the area, and evaluating trends.”
  • In Elsevier journal of Computer Science Review, you will see here4 that “Critical review of the relevant literature“ is required a component of every typical survey paper.

To summarize, these two terms can be distinguished using following notes (or maybe definitions)

Literature Survey: Is the process of analyzing, summarizing, organizing, and presenting novel conclusions from the results of technical review of large number of recently published scholarly articles. The results of the literature survey can contribute to the body of knowledge when peer-reviewed and published as survey articles

Literature Review: Is the process of technically and critically reviewing published papers to extract technical and scientific metadata from the presented contents. The metadata are usually used during literature survey to technically compare different but relevant works and draw conclusions on weaknesses and strengths of the works.

Second View: The second view over literature survey and review is that in survey, researchers usually utilize the author-provided contents available in the published works to qualitatively analyze and compare them with other related works. While in the former, you should not perform qualitative analysis. Rather it should be quantitative meaning that every research work under study should be implemented and benchmarked under certain criteria. The results of this benchmarking study can be used to compare them together and criticize or appreciate the works.

So basically you can look at current literature and find which approach is dominating in your field. Hope it helps. I try to revise it if I came a cross other points or useful comments here.

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    Up vote for Comprehensive answer. Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 5:57
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    Nice answer (+1). I agree with you that the difference between the two terms is non-essential and preference in terminology depends mostly on the research discipline (field) and journal editors' preferences. Having said that, your distinction between the terms seems artificial, meaning that I don't see core logic that prevents applying both definitions to the opposite terms (unless I've missed some points). Also, I wanted to add that more accurate definitions should mention that literature survey or literature review is each both a process and an artifact, resulting from that process. Commented May 8, 2015 at 3:50

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