“Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL. The “literature” of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world.
And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper is likely to contain a literature review as one of its parts.
In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute.
The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.
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.
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.
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.