What is the difference between a literature survey and a conceptual paper?

  • 4
    Welcome to Academia SE. Can you please add some background information to your question, e.g., where you stumbled upon these terms in reference to a paper? Also, what have you found so far?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Nov 27, 2015 at 15:05

3 Answers 3


Here are my definitions:

A literature review is a study that searches for scholarly studies on a specified topic, synthesizes and reports the results. The explicit purpose of a literature review is to present other scholars' work.

A conceptual paper is a study that does not analyze any data. It is contrasted with an empirical study, one that analyzes data, whether quantitative (numerical, e.g. statistics) or qualitative (non-numerical, e.g. interviews).

Now, to answer a question you didn't ask but maybe you imply: Is a literature review a conceptual paper? I personally say most certainly NO, a literature review is not conceptual; it is empirical. Literature reviews analyze other people's research as their data source--the unit of analysis is one scholarly study. To me, that is definitely empirical research (even though it is often called a "secondary" study, as distinguished from a so-called "primary" study that treats a subject directly).

In the case of meta-analysis (a literature review where quantitative data from the constituent studies is analyzed statistically) most people would agree that a meta-analysis is not conceptual. There is, however, some controversy or confusion with literature reviews that "only discuss" other people's research. Some people might call such a literature review a conceptual paper mainly because they don't clearly see any analysis of numbers. I disagree with that view, but I do realize that some people take that perspective.


A literature survey covers scholarly articles on a specific field, topic or subtopics within the field complete applications, advent of new techniques and breakthroughs in that area. A good survey paper ought to compare the works studies and also provide useful insights to open research problems on that area.

A conceptual paper focuses on a specific idea that one wishes to put forward that might seem novel or open new views to a specific research problem.


In the continuity with the answers I have to tell you literature survey can be even conceptual paper as well as empirical one. Meanwhile, in conceptual paper we just go through models and theories surrounding our topic without analyzing any data. So conceptual paper can be a subset of a literature review.

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