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Definition of literature

Examples of literature in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'literature.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin litteratura writing, grammar, learning, from litteratus

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Phrases Containing literature

  • gray literature

Articles Related to literature

woman sitting on floor holding book in front of her face on pink background

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Taking the temperature of a literary genre.

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Trending: 'Literature' As Bob Dylan...

Trending: 'Literature' As Bob Dylan Sees It

We know how the Nobel Prize committee defines literature, but how does the dictionary?

Dictionary Entries Near literature

literature search

Cite this Entry

“Literature.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literature. Accessed 21 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of literature, more from merriam-webster on literature.

Nglish: Translation of literature for Spanish Speakers

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Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about literature

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What is Literature? || Definition & Examples

"what is literature": a literary guide for english students and teachers.

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What is Literature? Transcript (English and Spanish Subtitles Available in Video; Click HERE for Spanish Transcript)

By Evan Gottlieb & Paige Thomas

The question of what makes something literary is an enduring one, and I don’t expect that we’ll answer it fully in this short video. Instead, I want to show you a few different ways that literary critics approach this question and then offer a short summary of the 3 big factors that we must consider when we ask the question ourselves.

Let’s begin by making a distinction between “Literature with a capital L” and “literature with a small l.”

“Literature with a small l” designates any written text: we can talk about “the literature” on any given subject without much difficulty.

“Literature with a capital L”, by contrast, designates a much smaller set of texts – a subset of all the texts that have been written.


speaker gesturing to literature with a small "l" rather than with a big "L"

So what makes a text literary or what makes a text “Literature with a capital L”?

Let’s start with the word itself.  “Literature” comes from Latin, and it originally meant “the use of letters” or “writing.” But when the word entered the Romance languages that derived from Latin, it took on the additional meaning of “knowledge acquired from reading or studying books.” So we might use this definition to understand “Literature with a Capital L” as writing that gives us knowledge--writing that should be studied.

But this begs the further question: what books or texts are worth studying or close reading ?

For some critics, answering this question is a matter of establishing canonicity.  A work of literature becomes “canonical” when cultural institutions like schools or universities or prize committees classify it as a work of lasting artistic or cultural merit.

The canon, however, has proved problematic as a measure of what “Literature with a capital L” is because the gatekeepers of the Western canon have traditionally been White and male. It was only in the closing decades of the twentieth century that the canon of Literature was opened to a greater inclusion of diverse authors.

And here’s another problem with that definition: if inclusion in the canon were our only definition of Literature, then there could be no such thing as contemporary Literature, which, of course, has not yet stood the test of time.

And here’s an even bigger problem: not every book that receives good reviews or a wins a prize turns out to be of lasting value in the eyes of later readers.

On the other hand, a novel like Herman Melville’s Moby-Di ck, which was NOT received well by critics or readers when it was first published in 1851, has since gone on to become a mainstay of the American literary canon.


graphic with cover of Melville's "Moby Dick" and quote

As you can see, canonicity is obviously a problematic index of literariness.

So… what’s the alternative?  Well, we could just go with a descriptive definition: “if you love it, then it’s Literature!”

But that’s a little too subjective.  For example, no matter how much you may love a certain book from your childhood (I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar ) that doesn’t automatically make it literary, no matter how many times you’ve re-read it.

Furthermore, the very idea that we should have an emotional attachment to the books we read has its own history that cannot be detached from the rise of the middle class and its politics of telling people how to behave.

Ok, so “literature with a capital L” cannot always by defined by its inclusion in the canon or the fact that it has been well-received so…what is it then? Well, for other critics, what makes something Literature would seem to be qualities within the text itself.

According to the critic Derek Attridge, there are three qualities that define modern Western Literature:

1. a quality of invention or inventiveness in the text itself;

2.  the reader’s sense that what they are reading is singular. In other words, the unique vision of the writer herself.

3. a sense of ‘otherness’ that pushes the reader to see the world around them in a new way

Notice that nowhere in this three-part definition is there any limitation on the content of Literature. Instead, we call something Literature when it affects the reader at the level of style and construction rather than substance.

In other words, Literature can be about anything!


speaker telling a secret with photo of Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" in the background

The idea that a truly literary text can change a reader is of course older than this modern definition. In the English tradition, poetry was preferred over novels because it was thought to create mature and sympathetic reader-citizens.

Likewise, in the Victorian era, it was argued that reading so-called “great” works of literature was the best way for readers to realize their full spiritual potentials in an increasingly secular world.

But these never tell us precisely what “the best” is.  To make matters worse, as I mentioned already, “the best” in these older definitions was often determined by White men in positions of cultural and economic power.

So we are still faced with the question of whether there is something inherent in a text that makes it literary.

Some critics have suggested that a sense of irony – or, more broadly, a sense that there is more than one meaning to a given set of words – is essential to “Literature with a capital L.”

Reading for irony means reading slowly or at least attentively.  It demands a certain attention to the complexity of the language on the page, whether that language is objectively difficult or not.

In a similar vein, other critics have claimed that the overall effect of a literary text should be one of “defamiliarization,” meaning that the text asks or even forces readers to see the world differently than they did before reading it.

Along these lines, literary theorist Roland Barthes maintained that there were two kinds of texts: the text of pleasure, which we can align with everyday Literature with a small l” and the text of jouissance , (yes, I said jouissance) which we can align with Literature. Jouissance makes more demands on the reader and raises feelings of strangeness and wonder that surpass the everyday and even border on the painful or disorienting.

Barthes’ definition straddles the line between objectivity and subjectivity. Literature differs from the mass of writing by offering more and different kinds of experiences than the ordinary, non-literary text.

Literature for Barthes is thus neither entirely in the eye of the beholder, nor something that can be reduced to set of repeatable, purely intrinsic characteristics.

This negative definition has its own problems, though. If the literary text is always supposed to be innovative and unconventional, then genre fiction, which IS conventional, can never be literary.

So it seems that whatever hard and fast definition we attempt to apply to Literature, we find that we run up against inevitable exceptions to the rules.

As we examine the many problematic ways that people have defined literature, one thing does become clear. In each of the above examples, what counts as Literature depends upon three interrelated factors: the world, the text, and the critic or reader.

You see, when we encounter a literary text, we usually do so through a field of expectations that includes what we’ve heard about the text or author in question [the world], the way the text is presented to us [the text], and how receptive we as readers are to the text’s demands [the reader].

With this in mind, let’s return to where we started. There is probably still something to be said in favor of the “test of time” theory of Literature.

After all, only a small percentage of what is published today will continue to be read 10, 20, or even 100 years from now; and while the mechanisms that determine the longevity of a text are hardly neutral, one can still hope that individual readers have at least some power to decide what will stay in print and develop broader cultural relevance.

The only way to experience what Literature is, then, is to keep reading: as long as there are avid readers, there will be literary texts – past, present, and future – that challenge, excite, and inspire us.

Interested in more video lessons? View the full series:

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writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.

the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.

the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.

the profession of a writer or author.

literary work or production.

any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.

Archaic . polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.

Origin of literature

Synonym study for literature, other words from literature.

  • pre·lit·er·a·ture, noun

Words Nearby literature

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use literature in a sentence

If you want to understand the flamboyant family of objects that make up our solar system—from puny, sputtering comets to tremendous, ringed planets—you could start by immersing yourself in the technical terms that fill the scientific literature .

Poway Unified anticipates bringing forward two new courses – ethnic studies and ethnic literature – to the school board for review, said Christine Paik, a spokeswoman for the district.

The book she completed after that trip, Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928, would be hailed as a classic in the literature on sexuality and adolescence.

He also told Chemistry World he envisages the robots eventually being able to analyze the scientific literature to better guide their experiments.

Research also suggests that reading literature may help increase empathy and understanding of others’ experiences, potentially spurring better real-world behavior.

The research literature , too, asks these questions, and not without reason.

She wanted to know what happened over five years, or even 10, but the scientific literature had little to offer.

The religion shaped all facets of life: art, medicine, literature , and even dynastic politics.

Speaking of the literature you love, the Bloomsbury writers crop up in your collection repeatedly.

literature in the 14th century, Strohm points out, was an intimate, interactive affair.

All along the highways and by-paths of our literature we encounter much that pertains to this "queen of plants."

There cannot be many persons in the world who keep up with the whole range of musical literature as he does.

In early English literature there was at one time a tendency to ascribe to Solomon various proverbs not in the Bible.

He was deeply versed in Saxon literature and published a work on the antiquity of the English church.

Such unromantic literature as Acts of Parliament had not, it may be supposed, up to this, formed part of my mental pabulum.

British Dictionary definitions for literature

/ ( ˈlɪtərɪtʃə , ˈlɪtrɪ- ) /

written material such as poetry, novels, essays, etc, esp works of imagination characterized by excellence of style and expression and by themes of general or enduring interest

the body of written work of a particular culture or people : Scandinavian literature

written or printed matter of a particular type or on a particular subject : scientific literature ; the literature of the violin

printed material giving a particular type of information : sales literature

the art or profession of a writer

obsolete learning

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

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A body of written works related by subject-matter (e.g. the literature of computing), by language or place of origin (e.g. Russian literature), or by prevailing cultural standards of merit. In this last sense, ‘literature’ is taken to include oral, dramatic, and broadcast compositions that may not have been published in written form but which have been (or deserve to be) preserved. Since the 19th century, the broader sense of literature as a totality of written or printed works has given way to more exclusive definitions based on criteria of imaginative, creative, or artistic value, usually related to a work's absence of factual or practical reference (see autotelic). Even more restrictive has been the academic concentration upon poetry, drama, and fiction. Until the mid-20th century, many kinds of non-fictional writing—in philosophy, history, biography, criticism, topography, science, and politics—were counted as literature; implicit in this broader usage is a definition of literature as that body of works which—for whatever reason—deserves to be preserved as part of the current reproduction of meanings within a given culture (unlike yesterday's newspaper, which belongs in the disposable category of ephemera). This sense seems more tenable than the later attempts to divide literature—as creative, imaginative, fictional, or non-practical—from factual writings or practically effective works of propaganda, rhetoric, or didactic writing. The Russian Formalists' attempt to define literariness in terms of linguistic deviations is important in the theory of poetry, but has not addressed the more difficult problem of the non-fictional prose forms. See also belles-lettres , canon, paraliterature. For a fuller account, consult Peter Widdowson, Literature (1998).

From:   literature   in  The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms »

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Definition of 'literature'

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Defining literature.

Literature , in its broadest sense, is any written work. Etymologically, the term derives from Latin  litaritura/litteratura “writing formed with letters,” although some definitions include spoken or sung texts. More restrictively, it is writing that possesses literary merit. Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction and whether it is poetry or prose. It can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama, and works are often categorized according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).

Taken to mean only written works, literature was first produced by some of the world’s earliest civilizations—those of Ancient Egypt and Sumeria—as early as the 4th millennium BC; taken to include spoken or sung texts, it originated even earlier, and some of the first written works may have been based on a pre-existing oral tradition. As urban cultures and societies developed, there was a proliferation in the forms of literature. Developments in print technology allowed for literature to be distributed and experienced on an unprecedented scale, which has culminated in the twenty-first century in electronic literature.

Definitions of literature have varied over time.  In Western Europe prior to the eighteenth century, literature as a term indicated all books and writing. [1]   A more restricted sense of the term emerged during the Romantic period, in which it began to demarcate “imaginative” literature. [2]

  Contemporary debates over what constitutes literature can be seen as returning to the older, more inclusive notion of what constitutes literature. Cultural studies, for instance, takes as its subject of analysis both popular and minority genres, in addition to canonical works. [3]

Major Forms

French words arranged on a page to form a sketch of a man wearing a hat

A calligram by Guillaume Apollinaire. These are a type of poem in which the written words are arranged in such a way to produce a visual image.

Poetry is a form of literary art that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, prosaic ostensible meaning (ordinary intended meaning). Poetry has traditionally been distinguished from prose by its being set in verse; [4]  prose is cast in sentences, poetry in lines; the syntax of prose is dictated by meaning, whereas that of poetry is held across metre or the visual aspects of the poem. [5]  

Prior to the nineteenth century, poetry was commonly understood to be something set in metrical lines; accordingly, in 1658 a definition of poetry is “any kind of subject consisting of Rythm or Verses”. [6]  Possibly as a result of Aristotle’s influence (his Poetics ), “poetry” before the nineteenth century was usually less a technical designation for verse than a normative category of fictive or rhetorical art. [7]  As a form it may pre-date literacy, with the earliest works being composed within and sustained by an oral tradition; [8]  hence it constitutes the earliest example of literature.

Prose is a form of language that possesses ordinary syntax and natural speech rather than rhythmic structure; in which regard, along with its measurement in sentences rather than lines, it differs from poetry. [9]  On the historical development of prose, Richard Graff notes that ”

  • Novel : a long fictional prose narrative.
  • Novella :The novella exists between the novel and short story; the publisher Melville House classifies it as “too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story.” [10]
  • Short story : a dilemma in defining the “short story” as a literary form is how to, or whether one should, distinguish it from any short narrative .  Apart from its distinct size, various theorists have suggested that the short story has a characteristic subject matter or structure; [11]   these discussions often position the form in some relation to the novel. [12]

Drama is literature intended for performance. [13]

  • Leitch et al. , The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism , 28 ↵
  • Ross, "The Emergence of "Literature": Making and Reading the English Canon in the Eighteenth Century," 406 &  Eagleton, Literary theory: an introduction , 16 ↵
  • "poetry, n.". Oxford English Dictionary . OUP . Retrieved 13 February 2014 . (subscription required) ↵
  • Preminger, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics , 938–9 ↵
  • Ross, "The Emergence of "Literature": Making and Reading the English Canon in the Eighteenth Century", 398 ↵
  • Finnegan, Ruth H. (1977). Oral poetry: its nature, significance, and social context. Indiana University Press. p. 66. &  Magoun, Jr., Francis P. (1953). "Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry".Speculum 28 (3): 446–67. doi:10.2307/2847021 ↵
  • Preminger, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics , 938–9 &Alison Booth; Kelly J. Mays. "Glossary: P". LitWeb, the Norton Introduction to Literature Studyspace . Retrieved 15 February 2014 .  ↵
  • Antrim, Taylor (2010). "In Praise of Short". The Daily Beast . Retrieved 15 February 2014 . ↵
  • Rohrberger, Mary; Dan E. Burns (1982). "Short Fiction and the Numinous Realm: Another Attempt at Definition". Modern Fiction Studies . XXVIII (6). &  May, Charles (1995). The Short Story. The Reality of Artifice . New York: Twain. ↵
  • Marie Louise Pratt (1994). Charles May, ed. The Short Story: The Long and the Short of It . Athens: Ohio UP. ↵
  • Elam, Kier (1980). The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama . London and New York: Methuen. p. 98.ISBN 0-416-72060-9. ↵
  • Literature. Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature#cite_note-44 . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Image of man formed by words. Authored by : Guillaume Apollinaire. Located at : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calligramme.jpg . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

Cambridge Dictionary

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Meaning of literature in English

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literature noun [U] ( WRITING )

  • He's very knowledgeable about German literature.
  • I had a brilliant English teacher who fired me with enthusiasm for literature at an early age .
  • She's studying for an MA in French literature.
  • Classic literature never goes out of print .
  • The festival will encompass everything from music , theater and ballet to literature, cinema and the visual arts .
  • action hero
  • alliterative
  • alternative history
  • fictionality
  • fictionally
  • non-character
  • non-literary
  • non-metrical
  • nonsense verse
  • swashbuckler
  • sympathetically
  • tartan noir

literature noun [U] ( SPECIALIST TEXTS )

  • advance notice
  • advance warning
  • advertisement
  • aide-mémoire
  • push notification
  • the gory details idiom

literature noun [U] ( INFORMATION )

  • information Can I get some information on college courses?
  • details Please send me details of your self-defense classes.
  • directions Just follow the directions on the label.
  • instructions Have you read the instructions all the way through?
  • directions We had to stop and ask for directions.
  • guidelines The government has issued new guidelines on health and safety at work.
  • adverse publicity
  • differentiator
  • opinion mining
  • overexposure
  • tie (something) in
  • unadvertised

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literature | Intermediate English

Literature | business english, examples of literature, collocations with literature.

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Definition of literature noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

  • English/American/French literature
  • children's literature
  • great works of literature
  • For most people, the desire to study literature begins with a love of reading.
  • write/​publish literature/​poetry/​fiction/​a book/​a story/​a poem/​a novel/​a review/​an autobiography
  • become a writer/​novelist/​playwright
  • find/​have a publisher/​an agent
  • have a new book out
  • edit/​revise/​proofread a book/​text/​manuscript
  • dedicate a book/​poem to…
  • construct/​create/​weave/​weave something into a complex narrative
  • advance/​drive the plot
  • introduce/​present the protagonist/​a character
  • describe/​depict/​portray a character (as…)/(somebody as) a hero/​villain
  • create an exciting/​a tense atmosphere
  • build/​heighten the suspense/​tension
  • evoke/​capture the pathos of the situation
  • convey emotion/​an idea/​an impression/​a sense of…
  • engage the reader
  • seize/​capture/​grip the (reader’s) imagination
  • arouse/​elicit emotion/​sympathy (in the reader)
  • lack imagination/​emotion/​structure/​rhythm
  • use/​employ language/​imagery/​humour/ (US English) humor/​an image/​a symbol/​a metaphor/​a device
  • use/​adopt/​develop a style/​technique
  • be rich in/​be full of symbolism
  • evoke images of…/a sense of…/a feeling of…
  • create/​achieve an effect
  • maintain/​lighten the tone
  • introduce/​develop an idea/​a theme
  • inspire a novel/​a poet/​somebody’s work/​somebody’s imagination
  • read an author/​somebody’s work/​fiction/​poetry/​a text/​a poem/​a novel/​a chapter/​a passage
  • review a book/​a novel/​somebody’s work
  • give something/​get/​have/​receive a good/​bad review
  • be hailed (as)/be recognized as a masterpiece
  • quote a(n) phrase/​line/​stanza/​passage/​author
  • provoke/​spark discussion/​criticism
  • study/​interpret/​understand a text/​passage
  • translate somebody’s work/​a text/​a passage/​a novel/​a poem
  • contemporary

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define your literature

What Is Literature?

Simply put, literature represents the culture and tradition of a language or a people. The concept is difficult to precisely define, though many have tried; it's clear that the accepted definition of literature is constantly changing and evolving.

For many, the word literature suggests a higher art form; merely putting words on a page doesn't necessarily equate to creating literature. A canon is the accepted body of works for a given author. Some works of literature are considered canonical, that is, culturally representative of a particular genre (poetry, prose, or drama).

Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction

Some definitions also separate literary fiction from so-called "genre fiction," which includes types such as mystery, science fiction, western, romance, thriller, and horror. Think mass-market paperback.

Genre fiction typically does not have as much character development as literary fiction and is read for entertainment, escapism, and plot, whereas literary fiction explores themes common to the human condition and uses symbolism and other literary devices to convey the author's viewpoint on his or her chosen themes. Literary fiction involves getting into the minds of the characters (or at least the protagonist) and experiencing their relationships with others. The protagonist typically comes to a realization or changes in some way during the course of a literary novel.

(The difference in type does not mean that literary writers are better than genre fiction writers, just that they operate differently.)

Why Is Literature Important?

Works of literature, at their best, provide a kind of blueprint of human society. From the writings of ancient civilizations such as Egypt and China to Greek philosophy and poetry, from the epics of Homer to the plays of William Shakespeare, from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte to Maya Angelou , works of literature give insight and context to all the world's societies. In this way, literature is more than just a historical or cultural artifact; it can serve as an introduction to a new world of experience.

But what we consider to be literature can vary from one generation to the next. For instance, Herman Melville's 1851 novel " Moby Dick "   was considered a failure by contemporary reviewers. However, it has since been recognized as a masterpiece and is frequently cited as one of the best works of Western literature for its thematic complexity and use of symbolism. By reading "Moby Dick" in the present day, we can gain a fuller understanding of literary traditions in Melville's time. 

Debating Literature 

Ultimately, we may discover meaning in literature by looking at what the author writes or says and how he or she says it. We may interpret and debate an author's message by examining the words he or she chooses in a given novel or work or observing which character or voice serves as the connection to the reader.

In academia, this decoding of the text is often carried out through the use of  literary theory using a mythological, sociological, psychological, historical, or other approaches to better understand the context and depth of a work.

Whatever critical paradigm we use to discuss and analyze it, literature is important to us because it speaks to us, it is universal, and it affects us on a deeply personal level. 

School Skills

Students who study literature and read for pleasure have a higher vocabulary, better reading comprehension, and better communication skills, such as writing ability. Communication skills affect people in every area of their lives, from navigating interpersonal relationships to participating in meetings in the workplace to drafting intraoffice memos or reports.

When students analyze literature, they learn to identify cause and effect and are applying critical thinking skills. Without realizing it, they examine the characters psychologically or sociologically. They identify the characters' motivations for their actions and see through those actions to any ulterior motives.

When planning an essay on a work of literature, students use problem-solving skills to come up with a thesis and follow through on compiling their paper. It takes research skills to dig up evidence for their thesis from the text and scholarly criticism, and it takes organizational skills to present their argument in a coherent, cohesive manner.

Empathy and Other Emotions

Some studies say that people who read literature have more empathy for others, as literature puts the reader into another person's shoes. Having empathy for others leads people to socialize more effectively, solve conflicts peacefully, collaborate better in the workplace, behave morally, and possibly even become involved in making their community a better place.

Other studies note a correlation between readers and empathy but do not find causation . Either way, studies back the need for strong English programs in schools, especially as people spend more and more time looking at screens rather than books.

Along with empathy for others, readers can feel a greater connection to humanity and less isolated. Students who read literature can find solace as they realize that others have gone through the same things that they are experiencing or have experienced. This can be a catharsis and relief to them if they feel burdened or alone in their troubles.

Quotes About Literature

Here are some quotes about literature from literature giants themselves.

  • Robert Louis Stevenson : "The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish."
  • Jane Austen, "Northanger Abbey" : "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
  • William Shakespeare, "Henry VI" : “I’ll call for pen and ink and write my mind.”
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  • High Interest-Low Reading Level Books for Reluctant Readers
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What is a Literature Review?

A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important past and current research and practices. It provides background and context, and shows how your research will contribute to the field. 

A literature review should: 

  • Provide a comprehensive and updated review of the literature;
  • Explain why this review has taken place;
  • Articulate a position or hypothesis;
  • Acknowledge and account for conflicting and corroborating points of view

From  S age Research Methods

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review can be written as an introduction to a study to:

  • Demonstrate how a study fills a gap in research
  • Compare a study with other research that's been done

Or it can be a separate work (a research article on its own) which:

  • Organizes or describes a topic
  • Describes variables within a particular issue/problem

Limitations of a Literature Review

Some of the limitations of a literature review are:

  • It's a snapshot in time. Unlike other reviews, this one has beginning, a middle and an end. There may be future developments that could make your work less relevant.
  • It may be too focused. Some niche studies may miss the bigger picture.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive. There is no way to make sure all the literature on a topic was considered.
  • It is easy to be biased if you stick to top tier journals. There may be other places where people are publishing exemplary research. Look to open access publications and conferences to reflect a more inclusive collection. Also, make sure to include opposing views (and not just supporting evidence).

Source: Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A Typology of Reviews: An Analysis of 14 Review Types and Associated Methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 91–108. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

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Periodically, UT Libraries runs a workshop covering the basics and library support for literature reviews. While we try to offer these once per academic year, we find providing the recording to be helpful to community members who have missed the session. Following is the most recent recording of the workshop, Conducting a Literature Review. To view the recording, a UT login is required.

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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . 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 in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Literary Terms

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This handout gives a rundown of some important terms and concepts used when talking and writing about literature.

Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a work that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation, and analysis. We encourage you to read this list alongside the other guides to literary interpretation included on the OWL Website. Please use the links on the left-hand side of this page to access other helpful resources.

  • Characterization : The ways individual characters are represented by the narrator or author of a text. This includes descriptions of the characters’ physical appearances, personalities, actions, interactions, and dialogue.
  • Dialogue : Spoken exchanges between characters in a dramatic or literary work, usually between two or more speakers.
  • Genre : A kind of literature. For instance, comedy, mystery, tragedy, satire, elegy, romance, and epic are all genres. Texts frequently draw elements from multiple genres to create dynamic narratives. Alastair Fowler uses the following elements to define genres: organizational features (chapters, acts, scenes, stanzas); length; mood (the Gothic novel tends to be moody and dark); style (a text can be high, low, or in-between depending on its audience); the reader’s role (readers of a mystery are expected to interpret evidence); and the author’s reason for writing (an epithalamion is a poem composed for marriage) (Mickics 132-3).
  • Imagery : A term used to describe an author’s use of vivid descriptions “that evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or ‘concrete’ objects, scenes, actions, or states” (Baldick 121). Imagery can refer to the literal landscape or characters described in a narrative or the theoretical concepts an author employs.
  • Plot : The sequence of events that occur through a work to produce a coherent narrative or story.
  • Point of View: The perspective (visual, interpretive, bias, etc.) a text takes when presenting its plot and narrative. For instance, an author might write a narrative from a specific character’s point of view, which means that that character is our narrative and readers experience events through his or her eyes.
  • Style : Comprising an author’s diction, syntax, tone, characters, and other narrative techniques, “style” is used to describe the way an author uses language to convey his or her ideas and purpose in writing. An author’s style can also be associated to the genre or mode of writing the author adopts, such as in the case of a satire or elegy with would adopt a satirical or elegiac style of writing.
  • Symbol(ism): An object or element incorporated into a narrative to represent another concept or concern. Broadly, representing one thing with another. Symbols typically recur throughout a narrative and offer critical, though often overlooked, information about events, characters, and the author’s primary concerns in telling the story.
  • Theme : According to Baldick, a theme may be defined as “a salient abstract idea that emerges from a literary work’s treatment of its subject-matter; or a topic recurring in a number or literary works” (Baldick 258). Themes in literature tend to differ depending on author, time period, genre, style, purpose, etc.
  • Tone : A way of communicating information (in writing, images, or sound) that conveys an attitude. Authors convey tone through a combination of word-choice, imagery, perspective, style, and subject matter. By adopting a specific tone, authors can help readers accurately interpret meaning in a text.
  • First person : A story told from the perspective of one or several characters, each of whom typically uses the word “I.” This means that readers “see” or experience events in the story through the narrator’s eyes.
  • Second person : A narrative perspective that typically addresses that audience using “you.” This mode can help authors address readers and invest them in the story.
  • Third person : Describes a narrative told from the perspective of an outside figure who does not participate directly in the events of a story. This mode uses “he,” “she,” and “it” to describe events and characters.

Types of Prose Texts

  • Bildungsroman : This is typically a type of novel that depicts an individual’s coming-of-age through self-discovery and personal knowledge. Such stories often explore the protagonists’ psychological and moral development. Examples include Dickens’ Great Expectations and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man .
  • Epistolary : A novel composed primarily of letters sent and received by its principal characters. This type of novel was particularly popular during the eighteenth century.
  • Essay : According to Baldick, “a short written composition in prose that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough exposition” (Baldick 87). A notable example of the essay form is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which uses satire to discuss eighteenth-century economic and social concerns in Ireland.
  • Novella : An intermediate-length (between a novel and a short story) fictional narrative.

Terms for Interpreting Authorial Voice

  • Apology : Often at the beginning or conclusion of a text, the term “apology” refers to an instance in which the author or narrator justifies his or her goals in producing the text.
  • Irony : Typically refers to saying one thing and meaning the opposite, often to shock audiences and emphasize the importance of the truth.
  • Satire : A style of writing that mocks, ridicules, or pokes fun at a person, belief, or group of people in order to challenge them. Often, texts employing satire use sarcasm, irony, or exaggeration to assert their perspective.
  • Stream of consciousness : A mode of writing in which the author traces his or her thoughts verbatim into the text. Typically, this style offers a representation of the author’s exact thoughts throughout the writing process and can be used to convey a variety of different emotions or as a form of pre-writing.

Terms for Interpreting Characters

  • Antagonist : A character in a text who the protagonist opposes. The antagonist is often (though not always) the villain of a story.
  • Anti-hero : A protagonist of a story who embodies none of the qualities typically assigned to traditional heroes and heroines. Not to be confused with the antagonist of a story, the anti-hero is a protagonist whose failings are typically used to humanize him or her and convey a message about the reality of human existence.
  • Archetype : “a resonant figure of mythic importance, whether a personality, place, or situation, found in diverse cultures and different historical periods” (Mickics 24). Archetypes differ from allegories because they tend to reference broader or commonplace (often termed “stock”) character types, plot points, and literary conventions. Paying attention to archetypes can help readers identify what an author may posit as “universal truths” about life, society, human interaction, etc. based on what other authors or participants in a culture may have said about them.
  • Epithet : According to Taafe, “An adjective, noun, or phase expressing some characteristic quality of a thing or person or a descriptive name applied to a person, as Richard the Lion-Hearted” (Taafe 58). An epithet usually indicates some notable quality about the individual with whom it addresses, but it can also be used ironically to emphasize qualities that individual might actually lack.
  • Personification : The artistic representation of a concept, quality, or idea in the form of a person. Personification can also refer to “a person who is considered a representative type of a particular quality or concept” (Taafe 120). Many classical deities are good examples of personifications. For instance, the Greek god Ares is a personification of war.
  • Protagonist : The primary character in a text, often positioned as “good” or the character with whom readers are expected to identify. Protagonists usually oppose an antagonist.

Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech

  • Alliteration : According to Baldick, “The repetition of the same sounds—usually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllabus—in any sequence of neighboring words” (Baldick 6). Alliteration is typically used to convey a specific tone or message.
  • Apostrophe : This figure of speech refers to an address to “a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object” and is “usually employed for emotional emphasis, can become ridiculous [or humorous] when misapplied” (Baldick 17).
  • Diction : Word choice, or the specific language an author, narrator, or speaker uses to describe events and interact with other characters.

Terms for Interpreting Plot

  • Climax : The height of conflict and intrigue in a narrative. This is when events in the narrative and characters’ destinies are most unclear; the climax often appears as a decision the protagonist must make or a challenge he or she must overcome in order for the narrative to obtain resolution.
  • Denouement : The “falling action” of a narrative, when the climax and central conflicts are resolved and a resolution is found. In a play, this is typically the last act and in a novel it might include the final chapters.
  • Deus Ex Machina : According to Taafe, “Literally, in Latin, the ‘god from the machine’; a deity in Greek and Roman drama who was brought in by stage machinery to intervene in the action; hence, any character, event, or device suddenly introduced to resolve the conflict” (43).
  • Exposition : Usually located at the beginning of a text, this is a detailed discussion introducing characters, setting, background information, etc. readers might need to know in order to understand the text that follows. This section is particularly rich for analysis because it contains a lot of important information in a relatively small space.
  • Frame Narrative : a story that an author encloses around the central narrative in order to provide background information and context. This is typically referred to as a “story within a story” or a “tale within a tale.” Frame stories are usually located in a distinct place and time from the narratives they surround. Examples of stories with frame narratives include Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein , and Wuthering Heights .
  • In media res : Beginning in “the middle of things,” or when an author begins a text in the midst of action. This often functions as a way to both incorporate the reader directly into the narrative and secure his or her interest in the narrative that follows.

Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning

  • Allegory : A literary mode that attempts to convert abstract concepts, values, beliefs, or historical events into characters or other tangible elements in a narrative. Examples include, Gulliver’s Travels, The Faerie Queene, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Paradise Lost .
  • Allusion : When a text references, incorporates, or responds to an earlier piece (including literature, art, music, film, event, etc). T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) offers an extensive example of allusion in literature. According to Baldick, “The technique of allusion is an economical means of calling upon the history or the literary tradition that author and reader are assumed to share” (7).
  • Hyperbole : exaggerated language, description, or speech that is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for emphasis. For instance, “I’ve been waiting here for ages” or “This bag weighs a ton.”
  • Metaphor : a figure of speech that refers to one thing by another in order to identify similarities between the two (and therefore define each in relation to one another).
  • Note that metonymy differs subtly from synecdoche, which substitutes a part of something for the whole. For example, the phrase "all hands on deck" can substitute for the more awkward "all people on deck."
  • Parody : a narrative work or writing style that mocks or mimics another genre or work. Typically, parodies exaggerate and emphasize elements from the original work in order to ridicule, comment on, or criticize their message.
  • Simile : a figure of speech that compares two people, objects, elements, or concepts using “like” or “as.”

Works Cited

For more information or to read about other literary terms, please see the following texts:

Baldick, Chris. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms . Oxford University Press, 2001.

Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms . Yale University Press, 2007.

Taafe, James G. A Student’s Guide to Literary Term s. The World Publishing Company, 1967.

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?


  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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Definition of Literature

What is literature (definition of literature by celebrated authors).

What is literature

The word ‘ Literature’   is a modified form of a Latin word ( literra, litteratura or litteratus)  that means: ‘ writing formed with letters’ . Let us look at what is literature according to definitions by different celebrated literary personalities.

Literature can be any written work, but it is especially an artistic or intellectual work of writing. It is one of the fine arts, like painting, dance, music, etc. which provides aesthetic pleasure to the readers. It differs from other written works by only its one additional trait: that is aesthetic beauty. If a written work lacks aesthetic beauty and serves only utilitarian purpose, it is not literature. The entire genre like poetry, drama, or prose is a blend of intellectual works and has an aesthetic beauty of that work. When there is no any aesthetic beauty in any written work that is not pure literature.

Definition of Literature According to Different Writers

  Throughout the history of English literature , many of the great writers have defined it and expressed its meaning in their own way. Here are the few famous definitions of literature by timeless celebrated authors.

Virginia Woolf :   Virginia defined literature in a perfect way. “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.”

Ezra Pound :  “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”

Alfred North Whitehead :  “It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.”

Henry James :  “It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.”

Lewis :  “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

Oscar Wilde :  “Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it but moulds it to its purpose. The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.”

Chesterton :  “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

Forster: The definition of literature by Forster is much interesting. “What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote”.

All the these definitions of literature by great writers represent different aspects of it, and shows that in how many ways it can be effective.

Literature: A Depiction of Society

It might sound strange that  what is literature’s  relation with a society could be. However, literature is an integral part of any society and has a profound effect on ways and thinking of people of that society. Actually, society is the only subject matter of literature. It literally shapes a society and its beliefs. Students, who study literature , grow up to be the future of a country. Hence, it has an impact on a society and it moulds it.

According to different definitions of literature by authors, it literally does the depiction of society; therefore, we call it ‘ mirror of   society’ . Writers use it effectively to point out the ill aspects of society that improve them. They also use it to highlight the positive aspects of a society to promote more goodwill in society.

The  essays   in literature often call out on the problems in a country and suggest solutions for it. Producers make films and write novels, and short stories  to touch subjects like morals, mental illnesses, patriotism, etc. Through such writings, they relate all matters to society. Other genre can also present the picture of society. We should keep in mind that the picture illustrated by literature is not always true. Writers can present it to change the society in their own ways.

The Effects of Literature on a Society:

 The effects of literature on a society can be both positive and negative. Because of this, the famous philosophers Aristotle and Plato have different opinions about its effect on society.

Plato was the one who started the idea of written dialogue. He was a moralist, and he did not approve of poetry because he deemed it immoral. He considered poetry as based on false ideas whereas the basis of philosophy came from reality and truth. Plato claims that, “poetry inspires undesirable emotions in society. According to him, poetry should be censored from adults and children for fear of lasting detrimental consequences” (Leitch & McGowan). He further explains it by saying, “Children have no ability to know what emotions should be tempered and which should be expressed as certain expressed emotions can have lasting consequences later in life”. He says, “Strong emotions of every kind must be avoided, in fear of them spiraling out of control and creating irreparable damage” (Leitch & McGowan). However, he did not agree with the type of poetry and wanted that to be changed. ( read Plato’s attack on poetry )

Now Aristotle considers literature of all kinds to be an important part of children’s upbringing. Aristotle claims that, “poetry takes us closer to reality. He also mentioned in his writings that it teaches, warns, and shows us the consequences of bad deeds”. He was of the view that it is not necessary that poetry will arouse negative feelings. ( Read Aristotle’s defense of poetry )

Therefore, the relation of literature with society is of utter importance. It might have a few negative impacts, through guided studying which we can avoid. Overall, it is the best way of passing information to the next generation and integral to learning.

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History of english literature.

Different types of literature

What is literary English?

Figurative language in English literature

What is a sonnet?

What is metaphysical poetry?

Definition and types of irony

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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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McCombes, S. (2023, September 11). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved November 20, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/

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Your mental dictionary is part of what makes you unique − here’s how your brain stores and retrieves words

define your literature

Assistant Professor of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, University at Buffalo

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Illustration of a halo of letters surrounding a topographic side profile of a person

The days of having a dictionary on your bookshelf are numbered. But that’s OK, because everyone already walks around with a dictionary – not the one on your phone, but the one in your head.

Just like a physical dictionary, your mental dictionary contains information about words. This includes the letters, sounds and meaning, or semantics, of words, as well as information about parts of speech and how you can fit words together to form grammatical sentences. Your mental dictionary is also like a thesaurus. It can help you connect words and see how they might be similar in meaning, sound or spelling.

As a researcher who studies word retrieval , or how you quickly and accurately pull words out of your memory to communicate, I’m intrigued by how words are organized in our mental dictionaries. Everyone’s mental dictionary is a little bit different. And I’m even more intrigued by how we can restore the content of our mental dictionaries or improve our use of them, particularly for those who have language disorders.

Language is part of what makes humans special , and I believe everyone deserves the chance to use their words with others.

Your mental dictionary

While a physical dictionary is helpful for shared knowledge, your personal mental dictionary is customized based on your individual experiences. What words are in my mental dictionary might overlap with the mental dictionary of someone else who also speaks the same language, but there will also be a lot of differences between the content of our dictionaries.

You add words to your mental dictionary through your educational, occupational, cultural and other life experiences. This customization also means that the size of mental dictionaries is a little bit different from person to person and varies by age. Researchers found that the average 20-year-old American English speaker knows about 42,000 unique words, and this number grows to about 48,000 by age 60. Some people will have even larger vocabularies.

By now, you might be envisioning your mental dictionary as a book with pages of words in alphabetical order you can flip through as needed. While this visual analogy is helpful, there is a lot of debate about how mental dictionaries are organized. Many scholars agree that it’s probably not like an alphabetized book.

One widely rejected theory, the grandmother cell theory , suggests that each concept is encoded by a single neuron. This implies that you would have a neuron for every word that you know, including “grandmother.”

While not accepted as accurate, the aspect of the grandmother cell theory suggesting that certain parts of the brain are more important for some types of information than others is likely true. For example, the left temporal lobe on the side of your brain has many regions that are important for language processing, including word retrieval and production. Rather than a single neuron responsible for processing a concept, a model called parallel distributed processing proposes that large networks of neurons across the brain work together to bring about word knowledge when they fire together.

For example, when I say the word “dog,” there are lots of different aspects of the word that your brain is retrieving, even if unconsciously. You might be thinking about what a dog smells like after being out in the rain, what a dog sounds like when it barks, or what a dog feels like when you pet it. You might be thinking about a specific dog you grew up with, or you might have a variety of emotions about dogs based on your past experiences with them. All of these different features of “dog” are processed in slightly different parts of your brain.

Using your mental dictionary

One reason why your mental dictionary can’t be like a physical dictionary is that it is dynamic and quickly accessed .

Your brain’s ability to retrieve a word is very fast. In one study, researchers mapped the time course of word retrieval among 24 college students by recording their brain activity while they named pictures. They found evidence that participants selected words within 200 milliseconds of seeing the image. After word selection, their brain continued to process information about that word, like what sounds are needed to say that chosen word and ignoring related words. This is why you can retrieve words with such speed in real-time conversations, often so quickly that you give little conscious attention to that process.

Until … you have a breakdown in word retrieval. One common failure in word retrieval is called the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon . It’s the feeling when you know what word you want to use but are unable to find it in that moment. You might even know specific details about the word you want, like other words with similar meaning or maybe the first letter or sound of that word. With enough time, the word you wanted might pop into your mind.

These tip-of-the-tongue experiences are a normal part of human language experience across the life span, and they increase as you grow older. One proposed reason for this increase is that they’re due to an age-related disruption in the ability to turn on the right sounds needed to say the selected word.

Speech therapist showing young patient how to roll tongue in forming a word

For some people, though, tip-of-the-tongue experiences and other speech errors can be quite impairing. This is commonly seen in aphasia, a language disorder that often occurs after injury to the language centers of the brain, such as stroke, or neurodegeneration, such as dementia. People with aphasia often have difficulty with word retrieval.

Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help someone improve their word retrieval abilities. For example, semantic feature analysis focuses on strengthening the semantic relationships between words. There are also treatments like phonomotor treatment that focus on strengthening the selection and production of speech sounds needed for word production. There are even apps that remotely provide word retrieval therapy on phones or computers.

The next time you have a conversation with someone, take a moment to reflect on why you chose the specific words you did. Remember that the words you use and the mental dictionary you have are part of what make you and your voice unique.

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From left: Salman Rushdie, Bob Dylan, Henry Kissinger, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Andrew Wylie, Lou Reed, Sally Rooney, Chinua Achebe and Martin Amis.

Days of The Jackal: how Andrew Wylie turned serious literature into big business

Andrew Wylie is agent to an extraordinary number of the planet’s biggest authors. His knack for making highbrow writers very rich helped to define a literary era – but is his reign now coming to an end?

A ndrew Wylie, the world’s most renowned – and for a long time its most reviled – literary agent, is 76 years old. Over the past four decades, he has reshaped the business of publishing in profound and, some say, insalubrious ways. He has been a champion of highbrow books and unabashed commerce, making many great writers famous and many famous writers rich. In the process, he has helped to define the global literary canon. His critics argue that he has also hastened the demise of the literary culture he claims to defend. Wylie is largely untroubled by such criticisms. What preoccupies him, instead, are the deals to be made in China.

Wylie’s fervour for China began in 2008, when a bidding war broke out among Chinese publishers for the collected works of Jorge Luis Borges. Wylie, who represents the Argentine master’s estate, received a telephone call from a colleague informing him that the price had climbed above $100,000, a hitherto inconceivable sum for a foreign literary work in China. Not content to just sit back and watch the price tick up, Wylie decided he would try to dictate the value of other foreign works in the Chinese market. “I thought, ‘We need to roll out the tanks,’” Wylie gleefully recounted in his New York offices earlier this year. “We need a Tiananmen Square!”

Literary agents are the matchmakers and middlemen of the book industry, pairing writers with publishers and negotiating the contracts for books, from which they take an industry-standard 15%. In this capacity, Wylie and his firm, The Wylie Agency, operate on behalf of an astonishing number of the world’s most revered writers, as well as the estates of many late authors who, like Borges, Chinua Achebe and Italo Calvino, have become required reading almost everywhere. The agency’s list of more than 1,300 clients includes Saul Bellow, Joseph Brodsky, Albert Camus, Bob Dylan, Louise Glück, Yasunari Kawabata, Czesław Miłosz, VS Naipaul, Kenzaburō Ōe, Orhan Pamuk, José Saramago and Mo Yan – and those are just the ones who have won the Nobel prize. It also includes the Royal Shakespeare Company and contemporary luminaries such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie , Karl Ove Knausgård , Rachel Cusk , Deborah Levy and Sally Rooney . “When we walk into the room, Borges walks in, and Calvino walks in, and Shakespeare walks in, and it’s intimidating,” Wylie told me.

When the Borges auction took off in 2008, Wylie began plotting. “How do we establish authority in China?” he asked himself. Authority is one of Wylie’s watchwords; it signifies the degree to which his agency can set the terms of book deals for the maximum benefit of its clients. To establish such authority, it is critical, in Wylie’s view, to represent authors who command a position of cultural eminence in any given market – Camus in France, Saramago in Portugal and Brazil, Roberto Bolaño in Latin America. “I always look for a calling card,” Wylie told me. “If you want to deal in Russia, for example, you want – dot dot dot – Nabokov.”

Who better to help him take over China, Wylie thought, than Henry Kissinger? In the 1970s, as US national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, Kissinger had presided over a historic rapprochement between the US and China. Since then, he had been an important interlocutor between China and the west. Kissinger was not a Wylie client, but that was an easy problem to solve. When Wylie Googled Kissinger’s name in 2008, he was confronted with books attacking his humanitarian record. “Kissinger was depicted as a war criminal who enjoyed killing babies – basically a monster,” Wylie said. “So I went to him and said: ‘Henry, this is not good legacy management.’” Wylie told Kissinger to fire his agent. Then, he added, “You need to get all three volumes of your memoirs back in print, and write a new book, a strong book.” Kissinger quickly became a client of The Wylie Agency.

The new book would be called On China. Wylie’s plan was to sell it to the Chinese market first, an unprecedented tactic for a book by a famous American author. In 2009, a Chinese publisher bought the rights to it for more than $1m, Wylie claimed (although he later said he was not able to confirm this figure). Authority duly established, his agency has gone on to achieve seven-figure deals in China for the works of authors as various as Milan Kundera and Philip K Dick. “That is how you take Tiananmen Square,” Wylie crowed, recalling his success. “You put Henry in the first tank, and you fill it with gas!”

The Kissinger operation was vintage Wylie: tempting an author away from a competitor and then leveraging that client’s reputation to mutually beneficial ends. “He’s playing a multiyear game in which he is constantly trying to consolidate the board,” Scott Moyers, the publisher of Penguin Press and a former director of the Wylie Agency, told me. In the 1980s and 90s, so the legend goes, Wylie used his commercial cunning to disrupt the chummy norms that reigned in the publishing industry, replacing them with what one tabloid newspaper referred to as a “greed storm”. When he met Wylie in the late 1980s, the author Hanif Kureishi later wrote, he was reminded of “the bullying, loud-mouthed suburban wide-boys I’d grown up with, selling socks and watches from suitcases on a pub floor”. Since the mid-90s, Wylie has been known as The Jackal, and many other agents and small publishers still see him as a predator who seizes literary talents nurtured by others. His agency’s approach is “very adversarial”, Valerie Merians, the cofounder of the independent publisher Melville House, told me. The head of rights at a London literary agency put it more bluntly: “He uses Colonel Kurtz methods.”

But there is more to Wylie’s success and his character than mere rapacity. Better than anyone else, Wylie and his agency have figured out how to globalise and monetise literary prestige. “I took him on after my six previous agents did not provide, out of idleness, what I required,” Borges’s widow, María Kodama, once said of Wylie. The works of Borges and other classics can be found throughout Latin America and Spain, in part because Wylie makes sure that publishers “commit to keeping them alive everywhere,” Cristóbal Pera, a veteran Spanish-language publisher and a former director at The Wylie Agency, told me. At the same time, Wylie’s international representation of authors like Philip Roth and John Updike has succeeded in “establishing American literature as world literature”, the Temple University scholar Laura McGrath has written.

Wylie’s literary tastes and international reach helped to create what was for several decades the dominant vision of literary celebrity. In the era in which writers such as Roth and Martin Amis had an almost equal place in the tabloids and in the New York Review of Books, when they were famous in Milan as well as Manhattan, and might plausibly afford to keep apartments in both, when they were public intellectuals living semi-public lives, Wylie was the most audacious broker of literary talent in the world, a man who seemed equally intimate with high culture and high finance.

Today, that era of priapic literary celebrity has faded, and some believe that Wylie’s stock has gone down with it. “I think the Wylie moment has passed,” Andrew Franklin, the former managing director and co-founder of Profile Books, told me. “When he dies, his agency will fall apart.” A crop of younger agents and large talent agencies have attempted to adapt many of Wylie’s business strategies to a new reality, in which literary culture is highly fragmented and clients are less likely to be novelists or historians than “multichannel artists” with books, podcasts and Netflix deals.

Wylie thinks that’s bunk. Even if the era of high literary fame is dead, he believes great literature continues to represent the best long-term investment. “Shakespeare is more interesting and more valuable than Microsoft and Walt Disney combined,” he told me, repeating an argument he has been making in the media for more than 20 years. All the Bard of Avon lacked was a good trademark lawyer, a long-term estate management plan and, of course, the right agent.

I f Wylie is the world’s most mythologised literary agent, it is partly because the caricature of him as a plunderer of literary talent and pillager of other agencies has been so irresistible to the media, and at times to Wylie himself. “I think Andrew quite likes the whole Jackal thing, because it makes him seem like a kind of hard man,” Salman Rushdie , one of Wylie’s longest-standing clients and closest friends, told me. Wylie is an ardent burnisher of his own legend, which is not to say that he traffics in falsehoods. He has led a remarkable life, and even when recounting facts that are grubby or mundane, he instinctively elevates them into something more fabulous. A dealmaker, after all, trades primarily in reputation.

Wylie’s success is founded, in part, on his gift for proximity to the great and the good. As a young man, he once spent a week in the Pocono mountains interviewing Muhammad Ali for a magazine, and singing him Homeric verses in the original Greek. He visited Ezra Pound in Venice and sang him Homer, too. In New York, he spent a lot of time at Studio 54 and the Factory studying the way Andy Warhol fashioned his public persona. He says Lou Reed introduced him to amphetamines in the 1970s and that he gave the band Television its name. The photographer and film-maker Larry Clark was best man at his second wedding. At the height of the fatwa against Rushdie, when Wylie wasn’t meeting with David Rockefeller to strategise a lobbying campaign to lift the supreme leader’s death warrant, or trying to self-publish a paperback edition of The Satanic Verses, he was sitting on the floor of a New York hotel room with mattresses covering the windows for security, meditating with Rushdie and Allen Ginsberg. At Wylie’s homes in New York and the Hamptons in the 90s, party guests might include Rushdie, Amis, Ian McEwan, Christopher Hitchens and Susan Sontag, or Rushdie, Sontag, Norman Mailer, Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Peter Carey, Annie Leibovitz and Don DeLillo. (There was once a minor crisis when Wylie forgot to invite Edward Said.) Wylie was one of the first people to whom Al Gore showed the powerpoint presentation that later became An Inconvenient Truth.

In his younger days, Wylie cultivated his reputation through decadence and outrageousness. At a publishing party in the 80s, Tatler reported that he invited a young novelist to “piss with me on New York”, and then proceeded to urinate out the window on to commuters at Grand Central station. (When asked to confirm or deny this, he said, “pass”.) During a hard-drinking evening with Kureishi around the same time, he spat on a copy of Saul Bellow’s More Die of Heartbreak, called it “utter drivel”, then stubbed his filterless cigarette out on it. (Wylie denies this happened, but Kureishi wrote about it in his diary at the time and later confirmed the story to his biographer Ruvani Ranasinha.) Bellow became a Wylie client in 1996, Kureishi in 2016.

The centre of the Wylie myth, however, has long been his ferocious pursuit of business. The author Charles Duhigg, a Wylie client, has proudly said that, in negotiations with publishers, his agent is “a man that can squeeze blood from a rock”. Wylie takes pleasure in conflict, and can be joyfully bellicose. Of a former client turned adversary, of which there have been a few, he will merrily remark, “I will refrain from saying ‘Fuck you’ to Tibor, because he’s already fucked.” He is as bald, cigar-puffing and self-assured as a Churchill. At The Wylie Agency, which he launched in 1980, “the keynote is aggression”, one of his former employees told me. That is not just the view of his detractors; Rushdie has described Wylie with affection as an “aggressive, bullet-headed American”.

The Wylie Agency hunts for undervalued literary talent the way a private equity firm might trawl for underperforming companies that it can turn into major profit centres after firing the current management. When he started out in the early 80s, Wylie saw more clearly than anyone else that literary reputations are commercial assets, and that if you control those assets, you ought to wring as much value from them as possible. Never mind if you have to use tactics that others consider unethical or underhanded. Scott Moyers summed it up this way: “When he came into publishing he said, ‘Fuck this. Who gains by this? What am I legally allowed to do? Let’s start with that as a basis, and then I’m gonna get to work.’”

W ylie’s New York offices are on the 22nd floor of a building in Midtown Manhattan. In the small reception area hangs an enormous framed picture of the first-edition cover of The Information, Martin Amis’s eighth novel, published in 1995. This is the book that caused Wylie to become widely known as The Jackal, after he ravished Amis away from the agent Pat Kavanagh, the godmother of Amis’s first child, with a pledge to sell the novel for £500,000. Like Wylie himself, the giant poster is calculated to seem at once high-minded, tongue-in-cheek and larger than life. It is Wylie revelling in his own myth.

“I think everyone got everything right,” he said slyly, when I asked him if journalists had, over the years, misunderstood him. It was a quintessential Wylie move: never to seem out of control of his own persona, always on guard against the impression that someone has perceived something about him that he has not intended. But as we sat together in his corner office, it became clear he most assiduously fosters the impression that he values great literature. That is, he appreciates it for its own sake, and he also fights to ensure it is assigned what he believes is its proper price.

Wylie was eager to present his viewpoint as being at odds with the rest of the publishing industry, which he portrayed as offering up the fast food of the mind. The attitude of most publishers and agents, he said, is roughly: “Fuck ’em, we’ll feed them McDonald’s. It may kill them, but they’ll buy it.” Bestsellers are the greasy burgers of this metaphor. If you read the bestseller list, Wylie went on, “You will end up fat and stupid and nationalistic.” The sentiment is genuine, but it leaves out the fact, as Wylie’s critics delight in pointing out, that he has represented such questionable literary lights as his landscape architect and Madonna.

Andrew Wylie in his office in New York.

After we had chatted for a while, it was time for lunch. Wylie’s favourite spot is the chain restaurant Joe and the Juice, and he relished his own description of the cardboard bread and desiccated tomatoes in its turkey sandwich. “You feel right next door to extreme poverty when you eat at Joe and the Juice, which is a comfortable place to be,” he said. First, though, he wanted to smoke, so we strolled through Midtown as he puffed away on one of the Cuban cigars he buys from a shop on St James’s Street in London’s Piccadilly. By habit or design, our walk brought us to the sleek glass exterior of the Penguin Random House headquarters, where we stood for a moment in front of a digital display advertising a novel called Loathe to Love You, the latest instalment of a bestselling series of romances about Silicon Valley types. Wylie was exuberantly disgusted. “I mean, that speaks for itself,” he exclaimed.

We continued walking. Colleen Hoover, a Simon & Schuster romance author who had five novels on the New York Times bestseller list that week, was at that moment the greasiest of all the greasy burgers in his mind. “Put down your Colleen Hoover and begin to live!” he exhorted the culture at large. “Throw away the Big Mac and eat some string beans!” (Stridency and snobbery are a favourite pairing in his humour.) We soon arrived at Joe and the Juice, but the wait for a sandwich was more than a quarter of an hour, so we moved on to a local diner. For lunch, Wylie ordered a cheeseburger, rare.

W ylie often claims that he does not have a personality of his own, and is constantly in search of one. “I have this sort of hollow core,” he likes to say. That seems dissembling, perhaps self-protective, but more than one observer has noted that Wylie perennially reinvents himself in ways that reflect the spirit of the age: there was the investment banker of books in the 80s, the force for literary globalisation in the 90s, a supporter of American exceptionalism in the 00s and the critic of what he sees as the twin crises of national and literary decline today. (“I support, broadly speaking, the endeavour of the United States, which is very troubled at the moment,” he told me at one point.) He is a man of multiple incarnations, from which a coherence nonetheless blooms.

Wylie grew up in a moneyed and highly literate Boston family; when Rushdie visited his agent’s childhood home in 1993, he found the initials AW still carved into an oak bookcase in the library wing. But Wylie spent a good portion of his teens and 20s in rebellion against his parents’ social world. He was kicked out of St Paul’s, the ultra-elite New England boarding school where his father went, for peddling booze to fellow students. Soon after, at age 17 or 18, he punched a policeman in the face. Given a choice between reform school and a psychiatric hospital, he chose the latter. He spent about nine months at the Payne Whitney clinic on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, not far from where he now lives, pacing the courtyard and memorising Finnegans Wake, he told me. “Everyone I admired had been crazy,” he said, including Ezra Pound and Robert Lowell. “I’m not, but I can fool everyone that I am.” André Bishop, who was close to Wylie at St Paul’s and later at Harvard, used to visit Wylie in hospital on the weekends. “I don’t know if I would call him crazy – I think he was disturbed,” Bishop told me. “But it was real. I don’t think he was putting on an act.” (Bishop is now the head of Lincoln Center Theater in New York and one of Wylie’s clients.)

Not long after Wylie was discharged from psychiatric hospital, he arrived at Harvard, also his father’s alma mater. “Nervous, a bit wild, gentle and intelligent,” is how the modernist poet Basil Bunting described him at 19 years old, in 1967. At Harvard and in the first few years after graduation, poetry was the centre of his life. “I’ve been having a look at the verse Eliot wrote at Harvard, and find that yours is more accomplished, despite the echoes,” Bunting wrote to him. In 1969, Wylie married his college girlfriend, Christina, and the following year, she gave birth to their son, Nikolas. The couple wrote poetry, and Wylie spent his days working in a Maoist bookshop near Harvard Square.

In 1971, Wylie left his young wife and child “with the car and the bank account” and moved to New York City. (He and Christina were “moderately unhappy people”, he told me, and they divorced in about 1974; he remarried in 1980, and has two more children.) In New York, he drove a taxi and wore his beard and thinning hair biblically dishevelled, as if he were wandering Mount Sinai instead of Lower Manhattan. He rented a storefront in Greenwich Village from which he attempted to sell his college library, including editions of Heraclitus in multiple European languages. Bob Dylan and John Cage were occasional customers, but “business was not brisk”, Wylie has said. Bunting wrote with condolences: “It is equally difficult to read the books that sell or sell the books you can read.”

Wylie, his family money ultimately backstopping his risks, was undeterred. He cofounded a small press and published the first book of poetry by a young musician named Patti Smith. He began a freelance gig doing celebrity interviews of figures like Warhol and Salvador Dalí for various books and magazines. He brooded, some of his acquaintances thought, on a certain kind of fame. The punk pioneer Richard Hell, who moved in similar circles, later wrote that “Andrew’s main model was Andy Warhol, because of Warhol’s combination of artistic talent with overriding worldly ambition”.

Then, sometime in the mid 1970s, Wylie began a three-year, amphetamine-fuelled “hiatus” from life, during which he slept about six hours a week, he said. “If you grow up with money, you either spend it over the course of your life, and you’re done, or you get rid of it and start from scratch,” Wylie said. He said he injected most of his inheritance into his arm. Eventually, “a lot of people I was doing business with were apprehended and sent away, so the supply of drugs went to zero,” he added. When he recovered from a terrible period of withdrawal, he decided it was time to get on with the business of living.

T he story that Wylie likes to relate of how he became a literary agent usually runs like this. It was 1979. He was off amphetamines and needed a job. Following in the footsteps of his late father, a director at the publishing house Houghton Mifflin, he applied for publishing roles. When he was asked in an interview what he was reading, he said Thucydides, and the interviewer told him he should read the bestsellers instead. “So I looked at the bestseller list and I thought, ‘Well, if that’s what you have to do to be in this business, then really and truly, fuck it, I’ll be a banker,’” he said in a speech in 2014. But banking appealed to him about as much as the bestseller list did. Then a friend at a publishing house suggested he look into becoming an agent.

As an agent, Wylie could attempt to thread the needle between commerce and quality. Books are a high-risk, low-margin business; Wylie has compared its profits unfavourably to those of shoe-shining. But the best literary works can remain in print for a long time, generating small but steady streams of income. Wylie began by renting a desk in the hallway of another agency, where he learned “how not to do things”. In his telling, it was just Harvard men getting drunk with Harvard men, selling unread manuscripts by Harvard men to fellow Harvard men. Wylie saw an opportunity: by treating books with the utmost seriousness, and by treating business as business, he could carve out a profitable niche for himself. In 1980, Wylie borrowed $10,000 from his mother, and The Wylie Agency was born. “We would corner the market on quality, and we would drive up the price,” Wylie later said of his business philosophy, to the sociologist JB Thompson.

The best writers needed serious wooing, Wylie understood, so he became an unparalleled practitioner of the grand gesture. He would call a writer and ask to meet next time he was in town. Then he would get the next flight to town, where he would recite to the writer swathes of their own prose, or verses of Homer. Wylie flew to Washington DC to win over the radical American journalist IF Stone. He flew to France to sign the deposed Iranian president Abolhassan Banisadr, whose book on Iran he miserably failed to sell. He flew to London to woo Rushdie, who demurred, so he flew to Karachi to sign Benazir Bhutto, who didn’t. Then he flew back to London for another go at Rushdie, who, impressed by the Bhutto manoeuvre, became receptive to Wylie’s advances. Surprise next-day arrival, the deployment of one client to attract another and the chanting of dactylic hexameters became canonical elements of the Wylie mating ritual.

Top: Jorge Luis Borges, Philip Roth, Rachel Cusk; middle: Deborah Levy, Benazir Bhutto, William Burroughs; bottom: Hanif Kureishi, William Shakespeare and Susan Sontag – all Wylie Agency clients.

Charm offensive complete, Wylie would talk money. “The most important thing … is to get paid,” Wylie told Stone, his first client, according to the biographer DD Guttenplan, who is also a client of The Wylie Agency. The bigger the advance, the better, Wylie went on: the more a publisher spends on buying a book, the more they will spend on selling it. Thompson later dubbed this “Wylie’s iron law”. The 80s were a good time for getting paid. Thanks to a historic rise in the number of readers after the baby boom, an explosion in book sales and the conglomeration of booksellers and publishing houses, publishers had more money, enabling agents like Wylie to demand higher and higher advances for their clients. Once one literary writer got a six-figure book deal, others expected to get six figures, too.

Within a few years of opening his agency, Wylie had an exquisitely curated list of a dozen or so writers. He devoted “seasons” to learning about one or two fields, from politics to art and theatre, and then courted the most significant names in each. He signed up Ginsberg and William Burroughs, David Mamet and Julian Schnabel. He also added the New Yorker writers and fiction editors Veronica Geng and William Maxwell, important nodes in the discovery network of new talent. In the mid-80s, he partnered with an agency in the UK and started systematically pursuing writers whom he deemed to be “underrepresented” by other agents. By the time he convinced Bruce Chatwin , Ben Okri , Caryl Phillips and Rushdie to leave their agent in 1988, Wylie was quickly becoming one of the most important conduits of money and influence in literary culture. As Ginsberg told Vanity Fair that year, Wylie was “assuming the normal powers of his family station after a long, experimental education which had ranged from high-class to the gutter”.

E very April, Wylie flies to London for the London Book Fair. For three days, he and his colleagues meet foreign publishers, pitching them books, negotiating deals and gathering intelligence on the state of their businesses. The Wylie Agency has offices in a Georgian townhouse on London’s Bedford Square, but Wylie often takes his meetings in the courtyard of the American Bar at the Stafford hotel, off St James’s Street, where cigar-smoking is encouraged. I met him there on a Sunday morning before the fair. It was the start of a 12-day trip that would also take him to the south of France to meet the Camus family and to Lisbon to meet the Saramagos. Then he would fly back to New York, where he was looking forward to celebrating Kissinger’s 100th birthday. In London he would mostly be doing “just the tedious usual shit”, he said – pitching books to publishers and negotiating deals.

That Wylie is an agent who can demand six or seven figures and be taken seriously comes, in part, from close study and good information. “We are intensely systems-driven,” he told me. “If the computer tells you that Saramago’s licence in Hungary is expiring in three months, then you look at the entire Hungarian market,” he said. Teams of two or three Wylie agents regularly fly around the world to visit publishing houses, speak with editors and take photographs of their buildings. They generate a report on each house that is shared throughout the agency. “It was badly heated, staff seemed depressed but the publisher herself was quite vibrant,” Wylie said, as if he were reading one of the dossiers. Wylie also takes advice about certain markets, like Russia, from members of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, of which he is also a member.

If that all sounds a bit like intelligence-gathering, it is. “I’m very interested in the work the CIA does and how they do it,” Wylie told me. “I think there’s a lot to learn from the agency about the way things work politically, and the way strategic calculations are made.” He has had a number of clients who are working or have worked at the CIA, including the former director Michael Hayden and the current director, Bill Burns. “We have access to projects that come out of the CIA as a first port of call,” Wylie said. He added that it was out of a CIA operation that he represented King Abdullah II of Jordan’s 2011 book, The Last Best Chance. When I asked whether he could say more, he thought for a moment, then replied, “I probably can’t.”

Today, The Wylie Agency makes about half of its money in North America, and the other half from the rest of the world. “Part of our practice is to always be looking at how international publishing markets are shifting,” Wylie said. Romania and Croatia were up and coming, he added, as was the Arabic-language market. Korea was “very dynamic”. China, of course, was key.

Other people in the publishing industry, particularly smaller agents and publishers, think that Wylie’s highly efficient operation has harmed the culture and spirit of the book world, turning the genteel pursuit of publishing into a race to the bottom line. Andrew Franklin, the former Profile Books director, said that Wylie had built a factory that simply churns out deals. “It’s like a really efficient law firm,” Franklin told me. (His colleague, Rebecca Gray, who has since taken over as managing director of Profile, remarked, “I think that’s the rudest thing that a publisher can say.”) A number of people in the industry suggested that the more talent Wylie has moved from small, independent presses to conglomerate imprints with large balance sheets, the more he has eroded the broader ecosystem of literary publishing. When I put this to Wylie, he replied that this sounded like “the logic of resentment coming from small publishers who were no longer allowed the luxury of underpaying and underpublishing writers of consequence”.

Yet the issue is not just about money. Beyond handling the business side of things, agents are often a writer’s first reader, most attentive editor, therapist and dear friend; some people in the industry see the relationship as an almost sacred bond. A few months before the agent Deborah Rogers died in 2014, Kazuo Ishiguro remarked that “she taught me to be a writer”. Like Kureishi and McEwan, Ishiguro had remained her devoted client even while Wylie was seducing other clients away from her.

But most writers need to get paid, too. Kureishi, for one, long had qualms about the advances his books were reaping. When he joined The Wylie Agency two years after Rogers’ death, he was suddenly able to access a “different level of money and efficiency”, he told his biographer. Likewise, Barbara Epler, the president of the small but influential publishing house New Directions, told me about a conversation she had in 1998 with the German writer WG Sebald when he left her for another imprint. “He said to me, ‘Barbara, you know you’ll always be my publisher. But the new novel – Wylie is getting me a half a million dollars for it!’”

Alongside the critique that Wylie has coarsened the industry, a number of people I spoke to suggested that he has a tendency to aggrandise his accomplishments. Several publishers who work in China told me that the Chinese may flatter Wylie that he’s a big deal, but that other agencies, like Andrew Nurnberg Associates, are much more influential there. Wylie told me he made an important contribution to the career of a well-known American historian by suggesting the historian write for the New Yorker; the historian told me that writing for the magazine had been a lifelong dream, and Wylie had nothing to do with it.

“There is Trump, Boris – and then there is Andrew Wylie,” Caroline Michel, the CEO of Peters Fraser and Dunlop, a rival agency, told me, when I asked her about Wylie, who had recently taken over one of her firm’s clients, the estate of the Belgian writer Georges Simenon. Wylie claimed that, among other things, Peters Fraser and Dunlop had missed major commercial opportunities in the US and China. Michel rejected that account. When her agency acquired the Simenon estate 10 years ago, she said, fewer than a dozen of his 400 books were in print in English. Within seven years, she continued, they had all of the 100 or so Maigret books in print in English, and three years later her agency sold its portion of the rights for 10 times what it had acquired them for.

“What we did with those books from nothing could be considered one of the great reinventions” of a literary estate, Michel said. “But Andrew can blow smoke up his own ass if he wants to.”

S imenon is in many ways a classic Wylie target: the estate of an internationally popular author with a highly exploitable backlist who nevertheless has the requisite literary value. (“With Ian Fleming, it’s all surface,” Wylie told me. “Simenon has the psychology.”) But it is only the most recent of Wylie’s campaigns of avid expansion. In 1997, the renowned agent Harriet Wasserman could already gripe that Wylie had annexed “more literary territory than Alexander the Great”. She also said she would rather clean the men’s toilet bowl in a New York subway station with her tongue than meet him: he had recently enticed Saul Bellow away from her. “There were a lot of agents who were tough, and there were some who were literate,” said Andrew Solomon, who became a Wylie client in 1998, when he was 24 years old. “But you tended to have to choose.”

Wylie was always thinking globally. In the 2000s and 2010s, he made two serious attempts to enter the Spanish language market directly by opening up an office in Madrid and buying a renowned agency in Barcelona (both failed). He attempted to sign up many of the most important American historians (a success) and to sell their books abroad (a failure). He attempted to force the major publishing houses to give authors a greater share of royalties for digital rights by setting up his own ebook company (also, in most respects, a failure). He began recruiting African writers who won the continent’s prestigious Caine prize (seven successes to date). He went after the estates of JG Ballard, Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov , John Updike and Evelyn Waugh (success, success, success, success, success).

Andrew Wylie in New York in 2018

The pace of Wylie and his business in these years was not what many people expected of the publishing industry. “You were working on what sometimes felt like the floor of Wall Street,” a former employee who worked at The Wylie Agency in the mid-00s told me. “An intellectual sweatshop for kids fresh out of the Ivy League,” is how another former employee described it. The workday was 10 hours long, and Wylie had an intense control over the minutiae of what was happening in the office. “You had to account for your whereabouts for anything longer than – excuse my crassness – taking a shit,” someone who worked in the New York office said. Wylie was generous and interesting, they claimed, but he didn’t stop some of his senior employees from being borderline abusive. A female employee from the mid-00s said that when a bunch of the assistants in the office saw The Devil Wears Prada, it struck a chord.

Despite that, “You felt you were in the midst of something important,” the person who worked in the New York office said. Staff might encounter Philip Roth wandering through the hallways; Al Gore or Lou Reed might be on the other end of the telephone. At Christmas parties, champagne flowed and Wylie would greedily dig the last of the caviar out of the tin with his finger. Hermès neckties were given to the gentlemen and cashmere scarves to the ladies. Even at other companies’ publishing parties, people were gossiping about The Wylie Agency: a now-legendary story went around New York that one evening Roth phoned the office. “Hello, The Wylie Agency, this is Andrew speaking,” an assistant at the other end of the line said. The excited caller, mistaking the assistant for the other Andrew, claimed – dubiously, to judge by recent reporting – that he had just gone to bed with the female lead in the movie being made of his novel The Human Stain, Nicole Kidman. The assistant, embarrassed, offered to put him through to Mr Wylie.

T he Wylie Agency is still immensely influential, but the glamour of those previous decades is gone. For a long time, Wylie was known for his expensive neckties and Savile Row tailoring; Martin Amis proudly explained to his sons in the late 90s that his agent was called The Jackal “because of his claws and his jaws and the tail-slit in the back of his pinstripe suit”. But when I spent time with Wylie over several days in New York and London, he always wore blue jeans and a woollen shirt-jacket. Day after day, the uniform never changed; it suggested that his old suits were props in which he took no intrinsic interest, and that if he no longer had need of them, they could be cast away.

The week of the London Book Fair provided an inside view of the messy business and meagre economics of buying and selling highbrow books today. In a convention centre in west London, hundreds of agents were meeting with publishers from around the world. There were desks laid out in long rows, like an examination hall, but meetings were spilling over on to the floors, with several taking place against the wall by the entrance to the bathrooms. “Isn’t this horrible,” Wylie remarked. “It’s like a prison camp. Every time I come here I wonder what I’ve done to deserve this. I thought I was a good boy.” At another moment, he compared the convention centre to an elementary school in Lagos. “I’m going to get in trouble for saying that,” he said, despite the fact he had said it on the record many times before. “My Nigerian friends are going to find it condescending.” But he seemed to understand that its inappropriateness was the very thing that would get it repeated, and hopefully heard by the organisers of the book fair. It was tactical vulgarity. “Indiscretion is a weapon,” he once told me.

As he and his deputy, Sarah Chalfant, met publishers from around the world, Wylie often came across as more avuncular than avaricious, though he could be petulant at times. (I got a taste of it later over email when he told me to “desist” from interviewing his clients and former employees.) Wylie and Chalfant’s conversations with publishers ranged from the state of politics and the publishing industry to deeply personal stories about family travails. There were also, as always, writers’ egos to consider. At one point they discussed with an editor whether they should tell a famous English-language writer that no one could understand her when she spoke the language of her adopted country. They decided not to. (A writer’s “self-perception needs to be honoured”, Wylie had told me in another context.)

Much of The Wylie Agency’s business at the book fair concerned moving authors from one publishing house to another, or pitching authors to publishers in countries where they weren’t yet published, or reassuring publishers that major authors were, indeed, hard at work on their next no doubt excellent and very profitable books. Everybody wanted to know if Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sally Rooney were writing again. It was relayed to favoured publishers that Rushdie was quietly at work on a book about the recent attempt on his life. “It’s critical for authors to be placed strategically in every country in the world, with a plot line that makes sense,” Wylie told me during one of our conversations. Having a good book with a bad publisher is “like trying to sell Hermès ties at Target”.

There were also plenty of negotiations, over the mostly paltry sums that even relatively good books were commanding in international markets. At breakfast one morning, a Brazilian editor offered $5,000 for the latest book by a major financial journalist, but Wylie pretended to mishear him. “You said $8,000, right?” The gambit worked, but Wylie was enjoying himself too much to stop. “We should sit further apart,” he said to the editor, sliding his chair back an inch or two. “Because over here it sounds like $12,000.” When work by the Israeli writer Etgar Keret came up for negotiation, Wylie jubilantly declared, “$12,000 – that’s the breakfast price!”

During other conversations, in the place of Wylie’s famed forcefulness was sometimes a vaguely flirtatious insouciance, though it wasn’t always clear who it was intended for – the publisher or the watching journalist. At one meeting, Wylie introduced an editor from one of Europe’s most esteemed publishing houses as “disadvantaged but interesting” and said she had been raised by Gypsies in a small town in some provincial country. She clarified that she had been born in a major European capital.

Later in their conversation, the editor worried about what to do with the latest novel by an award-winning British writer. “The modest offer you are waiting to make will be accepted, maybe with a small improvement,” Wylie told her. He suggested €6,000.

“It’s not going to work, since he only sold 900 copies of his last book,” the editor replied.

“This is the weakest argument I’ve ever heard in my life,” Wylie teased. “The flaws are transparent and resonant.” He pointed out that a publisher’s greatest profitability comes before an author earns back their advance, then he suggested €5,000.

“More like €4,000,” the editor said.

“Forty-five hundred? Done.” Wylie announced, pleased but not triumphant.

As meagre as that amount was, if the agency could make 20 such deals around the world for a writer, and earn a similar amount just in North America, a writer might, after the 15% agency fee and another 30% or so in taxes, afford to pay rent on a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment for a couple of years. How they would eat, or pay rent after two years if it took them longer than that to write their next book, was another question.

O ne morning before heading to the London Book Fair, Wylie and Chalfant had breakfast with Luiz Schwarcz, the co-founder of the Brazilian publishing house Companhia das Letras. Wylie first met Schwarcz in 1986, when he had just moved into the building where he still has his New York offices. For all Wylie’s talk about being able to drive a hard bargain because he’s not friends with publishers, it was evident Schwarcz and he were close. “I saw the beginning of the agency with no place to sit,” Schwarcz remembered. “You were ordering the furniture.”

Back then, Schwarcz had just started his own publishing business, and Wylie said to him: “One day, I will represent Borges and you will publish him.” They had achieved their vision, but it now seemed as if the literary world Wylie had once dominated was passing away. It was true that many publishers had so far survived the onslaught from Amazon, and had even thrived during the pandemic, yet it often felt to Wylie like the space for writers he admired was shrinking. “Penguin Random House, in the wake of its failed attempt to acquire Simon & Schuster, is drifting into an accounting operation,” he complained to Schwarcz at one point. “Everything is now guided by the numbers. They’ve moved away from the fact that they are publishing writers. They’re publishing a spreadsheet, and it’s dangerous.”

“There’s been a total neglect of the backlist,” Chalfant added.

“It’s more than neglect,” Wylie went on. “It’s ignorance. The problem is none of them read anything.”

That alleged ignorance was arguably a threat not only to literature, but to the long-term existence of The Wylie Agency itself. In order for his high-minded dynasty to succeed, he needs publishers with deep pockets and high minds to succeed with him. “Andrew understands that his brand of publishing and his vision for his authors will die if the publishers who espouse the same view die,” a former employee who still works in the publishing industry told me.

Wylie has said in the past, with self-parodying grandiosity, that he believes he is immortal and will run the agency for several years after his death. In reality, in the mid-00s, he seriously considered merging his business with CAA, the Los Angeles-based sports and talent agency, but felt it didn’t sufficiently understand his vision. Now, he said, he wants to do something comparable to the French publishing house Éditions Gallimard, “which has lasted and thrived and grown for three generations”. He has chosen Chalfant as his successor; she already oversees the agency’s London office and is effectively the firm’s CEO. Many other agents have also been at the firm now for a decade or two, and some of them have very close relationships with the agency’s major living writers, as Chalfant does with Adichie and Cusk, Jin Auh does with Ling Ma, and Tracy Bohan does with Sally Rooney . “The operation is no longer just about me, or me and Sarah, as it was for a long time,” Wylie told me.

Wylie still handles about 40 deals a year, but over the past decade, he has found himself performing with greater frequency a more morbid role: announcing the deaths of clients. In 2013, it was Chinua Achebe and Lou Reed. In 2018, Philip Roth. In 2022, it was almost Salman Rushdie, after he was stabbed 10 times during an attack at a lecture. This year, it was Martin Amis . Today, about 10% of Wylie’s clients are estates of dead writers. Many of the publishing titans he came up with, and against, are also gone, including Roger Straus, Sonny Mehta, Jason Epstein and Robert Gottlieb. Literary epochs are ending all around him.

“I’ve spent so much time trying to persuade the publishing industry to invest in literature that’s actually interesting,” he said to me at one point, with an uncommonly earnest weariness. “I don’t know if that’s just tilting at windmills, or whether by some magic it might have some effect.” When Wylie was constructing his agency, he used to think often of The Palace at 4am , a delicate, scaffolding-like sculpture by the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. The spindly artwork, a favourite of Wylie’s client and mentor William Maxwell, appears magnificent and perpetually at risk of collapse. “The image that came to mind was being in a dense wood, in fog, and approaching a clearing, and the light dawning a little bit, and The Palace at 4 am becomes visible, and that’s what I’m building,” he told me.

By contrast to the fragile palace he had once dreamed of building, Wylie compared his rivals, the big agencies, to “a football stadium at noon”: there was nothing subtle or ennobling about them. Nevertheless, they were the avatars of our new literary era. These agencies’ clients were, in Wylie’s eyes, a slurry of cosy Scandinavian cookbook writers, “as-told-to” biographers and bland comedians with streaming television shows. Perhaps these were now the calling cards that counted in the publishing world, but Wylie felt that Borges, Camus and Shakespeare, and maybe even Kissinger, were still the authors that really mattered. How, without such cultural weight behind them, would other agencies and new literary lights achieve the global eminence that even near-contemporaries like Roth and Amis once had? “How,” Wylie asked, “are they going to establish their authority?”

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neologisms dept. —

“hallucinating” ai models help coin cambridge dictionary’s word of the year, cambridge: "when an artificial intelligence hallucinates, it produces false information.".

Benj Edwards - Nov 17, 2023 5:01 pm UTC

A screenshot of the Cambridge Dictionary website where it announced its 2023 word of the year,

On Wednesday, Cambridge Dictionary announced that its 2023 word of the year is "hallucinate," owing to the popularity of large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT , which sometimes produce erroneous information. The Dictionary also published an illustrated site explaining the term, saying, "When an artificial intelligence hallucinates, it produces false information."

Further Reading

"The Cambridge Dictionary team chose hallucinate as its Word of the Year 2023 as it recognized that the new meaning gets to the heart of why people are talking about AI," the dictionary writes. "Generative AI is a powerful tool but one we’re all still learning how to interact with safely and effectively—this means being aware of both its potential strengths and its current weaknesses."

As we've previously covered in various articles, "hallucination" in relation to AI originated as a term of art in the machine-learning space. As LLMs entered mainstream use through applications like ChatGPT late last year, the term spilled over into general use and began to cause confusion among some, who saw it as unnecessary anthropomorphism. Cambridge Dictionary's first definition of hallucination (for humans) is "to seem to see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist." It involves perception from a conscious mind, and some object to that association.

  • A screenshot of the Cambridge Dictionary definition for "hallucinate" as related to AI, captured November 17, 2023. Cambridge Dictionary
  • A screenshot of the Cambridge Dictionary definition for "confabulate" as related to AI, captured November 17, 2023. Cambridge Dictionary

Like all words, its definition borrows heavily from context. When machine-learning researchers use the term hallucinate (which they still do, frequently, judging by research papers), they typically understand an LLM's limitations—for example, that the AI model is not alive or "conscious" by human standards—but the general public may not. So in a feature exploring hallucinations in-depth earlier this year, we suggested an alternative term, "confabulation," that perhaps more accurately describes the creative gap-filling principle of AI models at work without the perception baggage. (And guess what— that's in the Cambridge Dictionary, too .)

"The widespread use of the term ‘hallucinate’ to refer to mistakes by systems like ChatGPT provides a fascinating snapshot of how we’re thinking about and anthropomorphising AI," said Henry Shevlin, an AI ethicist at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. "As this decade progresses, I expect our psychological vocabulary will be further extended to encompass the strange abilities of the new intelligences we’re creating."

Hallucinations have resulted in legal trouble for both individuals and companies over the past year. In May, a lawyer who cited fake cases confabulated by ChatGPT got in trouble with a judge and was later fined . In April, Brian Hood sued OpenAI for defamation when ChatGPT falsely claimed that Hood had been convicted for a foreign bribery scandal. It was later settled out of court.

In truth, LLMs "hallucinate" all the time. They pull together associations between concepts from what they have learned from training (and later fine-tuning), and it's not always an accurate inference. Where there are gaps in knowledge, they will generate the most probable-sounding answer. Many times, that can be correct, given high-quality training data and proper fine-tuning, but other times it's not.

So far, it seems that OpenAI has been the only tech company to significantly clamp down on erroneous hallucinations with GPT-4 , which is one of the reasons that model is still seen as being in the lead. How they've achieved this is part of OpenAI's secret sauce, but OpenAI chief scientist Illya Sutstkever has previously mentioned that he thinks RLHF may provide a way to reduce hallucinations in the future. ( RLHF , or reinforcement learning through human feedback, is a process whereby humans rate a language model's answers, and those results are used to fine-tune the model further.)

Wendalyn Nichols, Cambridge Dictionary’s publishing manager, said in a statement , "The fact that AIs can ‘hallucinate’ reminds us that humans still need to bring their critical thinking skills to the use of these tools. AIs are fantastic at churning through huge amounts of data to extract specific information and consolidate it. But the more original you ask them to be, the likelier they are to go astray."

It has been a banner year for AI words, according to the dictionary. Cambridge says it has added other AI-related terms to its dictionary in 2023, including "large language model," "AGI," "generative AI," and "GPT."

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  • What are some similarities and differences between palliative care and hospice care?

Many Americans die in facilities such as hospitals or nursing homes receiving care that is not consistent with their wishes. It’s important for older adults to plan ahead and let their caregivers, doctors, or family members know your end-of-life preferences in advance. For example, if an older person wants to die at home, receiving end-of-life care for pain and other symptoms, and makes this known to health care providers and family, it is less likely he or she will die in a hospital receiving unwanted treatments.

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If the person is no longer able to make health care decisions for themselves, a caregiver or family member may have to make those decisions. Caregivers have several factors to consider when choosing end-of-life care, including the older person's desire to pursue life-extending treatments, how long he or she has left to live, and the preferred setting for care.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness, such as cancer or heart failure. Patients in palliative care may receive medical care for their symptoms, or palliative care, along with treatment intended to cure their serious illness. Palliative care is meant to enhance a person's current care by focusing on quality of life for them and their family.

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Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a serious illness, such as heart failure , chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , cancer , dementia , Parkinson's disease , and many others. Palliative care can be helpful at any stage of illness and is best provided soon after a person is diagnosed.

In addition to improving quality of life and helping with symptoms, palliative care can help patients understand their choices for medical treatment. The organized services available through palliative care may be helpful to any older person having a lot of general discomfort and disability very late in life.

Who makes up the palliative care team?

A palliative care team is made up of multiple different professionals that work with the patient, family, and the patient's other doctors to provide medical, social, emotional, and practical support. The team is comprised of palliative care specialist doctors and nurses, and includes others such as social workers, nutritionists, and chaplains. A person's team may vary based on their needs and level of care. To begin palliative care, a person's health care provider may refer him or her to a palliative care specialist. If he or she doesn't suggest it, the person can ask a health care provider for a referral.

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Palliative care can be provided in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient palliative care clinics and certain other specialized clinics, or at home. Medicare , Medicaid , and insurance policies may cover palliative care. Veterans may be eligible for palliative care through the Department of Veterans Affairs . Private health insurance might pay for some services. Health insurance providers can answer questions about what they will cover.

Visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization website to find palliative care near you.

In palliative care, a person does not have to give up treatment that might cure a serious illness. Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment and may begin at the time of diagnosis. Over time, if the doctor or the palliative care team believes ongoing treatment is no longer helping, there are two possibilities. Palliative care could transition to hospice care if the doctor believes the person is likely to die within six months (see What does the hospice six-month requirement mean? ). Or, the palliative care team could continue to help with increasing emphasis on comfort care .

For more information, check out NIA’s article on Frequently Asked Questions About Palliative Care .

Increasingly, people are choosing hospice care at the end of life. Hospice care focuses on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a person with a serious illness who is approaching the end of life.

At some point, it may not be possible to cure a serious illness, or a patient may choose not to undergo certain treatments. Hospice is designed for this situation. The patient beginning hospice care understands that his or her illness is not responding to medical attempts to cure it or to slow the disease's progress.

Like palliative care, hospice provides comprehensive comfort care as well as support for the family, but, in hospice, attempts to cure the person's illness are stopped. Hospice is provided for a person with a terminal illness whose doctor believes he or she has six months or less to live if the illness runs its natural course.

It's important for a patient to discuss hospice care options with their doctor. Sometimes, people don't begin hospice care soon enough to take full advantage of the help it offers. Perhaps they wait too long to begin hospice and they are too close to death. Or, some people are not eligible for hospice care soon enough to receive its full benefit. Starting hospice early may be able to provide months of meaningful care and quality time with loved ones.

Where is hospice care provided and who provides it?

Hospice is an approach to care, so it is not tied to a specific place. It can be offered in two types of settings — at home or in a facility such as a nursing home, hospital, or even in a separate hospice center.

Read more about where end-of-life care can be provided .

Hospice care brings together a team of people with special skills — among them nurses, doctors, social workers, spiritual advisors, and trained volunteers. Everyone works together with the person who is dying, the caregiver, and/or the family to provide the medical, emotional, and spiritual support needed.

A member of the hospice team visits regularly, and someone is usually always available by phone — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hospice may be covered by Medicare and other insurance companies. Check to see if insurance will cover the person’s particular situation.

It is important to remember that stopping treatment aimed at curing an illness does not mean discontinuing all treatment. A good example is an older person with cancer. If the doctor determines that the cancer is not responding to chemotherapy and the patient chooses to enter into hospice care, then the chemotherapy will stop. Other medical care may continue as long as it is helpful. For example, if the person has high blood pressure , he or she will still get medicine for that.

Source: www.nhpco.org/palliativecare/explanation-of-palliative-care .Copyright © National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. All rights reserved.

Although hospice provides a lot of support, the day-to-day care of a person dying at home is provided by family and friends. The hospice team coaches family members on how to care for the dying person and even provides respite care when caregivers need a break. Respite care can be for as short as a few hours or for as long as several weeks.

What are the benefits of hospice care?

Families of people who received care through a hospice program are more satisfied with end-of-life care than those who did not have hospice services. Also, hospice recipients are more likely to have their pain controlled and less likely to undergo tests or be given medicines they don't need, compared with people who don't use hospice care.

You may also be interested in

  • Exploring frequently asked questions about hospice care
  • Learning about different care settings at the end of life
  • Reading about making care decisions at the end of life

Sign up for caregiving tips from NIA

For more information about hospice and palliative care.

NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center 800-438-4380 [email protected] www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers The NIA ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.

Alzheimers.gov www.alzheimers.gov Explore the Alzheimers.gov website for information and resources on Alzheimer’s and related dementias from across the federal government.

CaringInfo National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization 800-658-8898 [email protected] www.caringinfo.org

Center to Advance Palliative Care 212-201-2670 [email protected] www.getpalliativecare.org

Hospice Foundation of America 800-854-3402 [email protected] www.hospicefoundation.org

Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care 312-503-3732 [email protected] www.epec.net

Visiting Nurse Associations of America 888-866-8773 [email protected] www.vnaa.org

This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.

Content reviewed: May 14, 2021


An official website of the National Institutes of Health


OpenAI ousts Sam Altman, Microsoft picks him up, and the future of your ChatGPT experience is in flux

Posted: November 20, 2023 | Last updated: November 20, 2023

Update 11-20-20-2023: Late Sunday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced on X (formerly Twitter) that former OpenAI CE Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and "colleagues" are joining Microsoft.

Nadella also insisted that the company remains committed to the OpenAI partnership while using Altman and co. to lead Microsoft's "new advanced AI research firm."

Most of this reinforced what I wrote below: this shakeup will impact the future of your experience with ChatGPT and AI writ large. How well Microsoft and OpenAI can continue working together while many of the people who built the GPT LLM and forged that relationship are suddenly sitting within Microsoft remains to be seen.

2024 should be interesting. I wonder if ChatGPT has any answers...

As I write this, Sam Altman may or may not be CEO of OpenAI, the non-profit artificial intelligence factory responsible for developing what is arguably the world's most popular AI chatbot, ChatGPT, and AI image generation platform DALL-E. For this brief moment, Altman is like the Schrödinger's cat of CEOs.

OpenAI is responsible for changing our perception of AI and its place in our society. It moved AI from the fringes and plumbing of popular technology to center stage.

While AI has existed in many of the products we use today, most people, prior to late 2022, had never engaged directly with an AI. ChatGPT and its GPT-3 underpinning turned consumer-grade AI into reality and ChatGPT into an overnight sensation.

Things moved so quickly that we went from fascination to excitement to utility to integration and finally deep concern within a space of 6 months.

Still, even as we wondered if all this AI was good for us and society, development barreled forward with OpenAI leading the charge; especially as it partnered up with benefactor Microsoft to help bring AI to even more consumers through Bing and then the world's most widely used platform, Windows.

AI consumes first job

The sudden and startling ouster of OpenAI cofounder and CEO Sam Altman late Friday may seem like a story about business and boardroom shenanigans, and in some ways it is. Still, questions about why Altman was removed, and his lieutenant, OpenAI President Greg Brockman left in his wake, resonate well behind the future of OpenAI as a business and shine a spotlight on the rough road ahead for future AI development, especially as it heads into Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

AGI differs from AI in that it takes the latter to a more human-like level. It’s AI that resembles the way people and not computers think.

OpenAI has made no secret of the fact that AGI is the destination and in Altman’s most recent public appearance where he introduced GPTs, a store to buy them, and new Turbo versions of GPT-4, Altman made it clear that OpenAI was making some significant leaps in this area.

Are you ready for AGI?

It may be telling that Altman was then soon shown the door. Did Altman show the board something that concerned them and raised fears of an onrushing singularity? Was he unable to convince them that AGI could be developed and delayed safely? After all, Altman also made it clear that our very definition of AGI is a moving target and what we have in ChatGPT now would've, a decade ago, passed for AGI.

What should you care? Altman’s stewardship of OpenAI, which may or may not continue in the future (the board is apparently trying to bring him back), will certainly define the next five years of AI and, especially the AGI revolution to come.

AGIs will transform how we interact with chatbots, how we solve difficult human problems, and how we regulate AI for the long term. Altman, who sat before Congress earlier this year and called for regulation, does not come across as some sort of AI cowboy. Still, something spooked the board.

Considering the ever-accelerating pace of AI development, OpenAI may have come too close to releasing AGI for the board's comfort. Perhaps the board asked Altman to pull back. Or maybe Altman didn’t reveal the true state of the development team's AGI efforts (the board did, in its release on the matter, indicate some form of dishonesty on Altman's part), and when it found out, it panicked.

Whatever the case, Altman’s place or lack of one at OpenAI will impact your AI future.

Update 11-20-20-2023: Late Sunday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced on X (formerly Twitter) that Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and "colleagues" are joining Microsoft.

Nadella also insisted that the company remains committed to the OpenAI partnership while using Altman and co. to lead "a new advanced research firm."

Most of this reinforced what I wrote below: this shakeup will impact the future of your experience with ChatGPT and AI writ large. How well Microsoft and OpenAI can continue working together while many of the people who built the GPT technology and forged that relationship are suddenly sitting within Microsoft remains to be seen.

You might also like

  • ChatGPT has passed the Turing test and if you're freaked out, you're ...
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  1. PPT

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  2. Literature||Definition||Types of Literature|| Functions of Literature

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  3. Definition of Literature for Fundamentals of Literature

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  4. Different Types of Literature

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  5. English literature

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  6. Definition of Literature for Fundamentals of Literature

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  2. Demystifying Literary Analysis: A Deep Dive into Humanities Writing

  3. Your Literature Review (Part 1)

  4. Literature Review Tip 1 I Dr Dee

  5. Types of literature review

  6. The Animated Dictionary Defines "Defenestrate"


  1. 1.1: What is Literature?

    Literature is art, but with words. While the artist uses different colors, paintbrushes, mediums, canvases, and techniques, the writer uses different genres and literary techniques called literary devices. Just like different types of paint, paintbrushes, and artistic tools, there are literally hundreds of literary devices, but some of the most ...

  2. Literature Definition & Meaning

    literature noun lit· er· a· ture ˈli-tə-rə-ˌchu̇r ˈli-trə-ˌchu̇r, ˈli-tər-ˌchu̇r, ˈli-tə-, -chər, -ˌtyu̇r -ˌtu̇r 1 a (1) : writings in prose or verse especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest literature stands related to man as science stands to nature J. H. Newman (2)

  3. What is Literature? || Definition & Examples

    1. a quality of invention or inventiveness in the text itself; 2. the reader's sense that what they are reading is singular. In other words, the unique vision of the writer herself. 3. a sense of 'otherness' that pushes the reader to see the world around them in a new way

  4. Literature

    Literature, a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. It may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language and genre.

  5. Literature

    Literature is any collection of written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose, fiction, drama, poetry, and including both print and digital writing. In recent centuries, the definition has expanded to include oral literature, also known as orature much of which has been transcribed.


    all the information relating to a subject, especially information written by experts: It's important to keep up-to-date with the literature in your field. There is very little literature on the disease. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases literature noun [U] (INFORMATION)

  7. LITERATURE Definition & Usage Examples

    noun writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays. the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.

  8. Literature

    Search for: 'literature' in Oxford Reference ». A body of written works related by subject-matter (e.g. the literature of computing), by language or place of origin (e.g. Russian literature), or by prevailing cultural standards of merit. In this last sense, 'literature' is taken to include oral, dramatic, and broadcast compositions that ...

  9. LITERATURE definition in American English

    (lɪtərətʃər , -tʃʊr ) Word forms: literatures plural 1. variable noun Novels, plays, and poetry are referred to as literature, especially when they are considered to be good or important. ...classic works of literature. I have spent my life getting to know diverse literatures of different epochs.

  10. LITERATURE definition and meaning

    (lɪtrətʃəʳ , US -tərətʃʊr ) Word forms: plural literatures 1. variable noun Novels, plays, and poetry are referred to as literature, especially when they are considered to be good or important. ...classic works of literature. ...a Professor of English Literature. It may not be great literature but it certainly had me riveted!

  11. Defining Literature

    Literature, in its broadest sense, is any written work.Etymologically, the term derives from Latin litaritura/litteratura "writing formed with letters," although some definitions include spoken or sung texts. More restrictively, it is writing that possesses literary merit. Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction and whether it is poetry or prose.


    B1 written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting artistic value: classical / modern literature "Wuthering Heights" is a classic of English literature. Fewer examples He's very knowledgeable about German literature. I had a brilliant English teacher who fired me with enthusiasm for literature at an early age.

  13. literature noun

    Collocations Literature Literature Being a writer. write/ publish literature/ poetry/ fiction/ a book/ a story/ a poem/ a novel/ a review/ an autobiography; become a writer/ novelist/ playwright; find/ have a publisher/ an agent; have a new book out; edit/ revise/ proofread a book/ text/ manuscript; dedicate a book/ poem to…; Plot, character and atmosphere

  14. What Literature Can Teach Us

    Literature is a term used to describe written and sometimes spoken material. Derived from the Latin word literature meaning "writing formed with letters," literature most commonly refers to works of the creative imagination, including poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction, and in some instances, journalism, and song. What Is Literature?

  15. Literature

    Define literature. literature synonyms, literature pronunciation, literature translation, English dictionary definition of literature. n. 1. The body of written works of a language, period, or culture. 2. Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value: "Literature...

  16. What is a literature review?

    A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important ...

  17. 5. The Literature Review

    A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories.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 in a way that ...

  18. Literary Terms

    The Basics Characterization: The ways individual characters are represented by the narrator or author of a text. This includes descriptions of the characters' physical appearances, personalities, actions, interactions, and dialogue. Dialogue: Spoken exchanges between characters in a dramatic or literary work, usually between two or more speakers.

  19. Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

    1. Choose a topic. Define your research question. Your literature review should be guided by your central research question. The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  20. Literature

    Literature usually means a work of poetry, theatre or narrative. [1] There are many different kinds of literature, such as poetry, plays, or novels. They can also be put into groups by their language, historical time, place of origin, genre, and subject. [1]

  21. Definition of Literature

    Definition of Literature The word 'Literature' is a modified form of a Latin word (literra, litteratura or litteratus) that means: 'writing formed with letters'. Let us look at what is literature according to definitions by different celebrated literary personalities.

  22. How to Write a Literature Review

    A literature review is a survey of on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or. There are five key steps to writing a literature review: themes, debates, and gaps.

  23. What is Literature

    Definition: Literature refers to written works of imaginative, artistic, or intellectual value, typically characterized by the use of language to convey ideas, emotions, and experiences. It encompasses various forms of written expression, such as novels, poems, plays, essays, short stories, and other literary works. History of Literature

  24. Your mental dictionary is part of what makes you unique − here's how

    Just like a physical dictionary, your mental dictionary contains information about words. This includes the letters, sounds and meaning, or semantics, of words, as well as information about parts ...

  25. Days of The Jackal: how Andrew Wylie turned serious literature into big

    A ndrew Wylie, the world's most renowned - and for a long time its most reviled - literary agent, is 76 years old. Over the past four decades, he has reshaped the business of publishing in ...

  26. How To Build A Non-Operational Management System For Your Company

    5. Prepare new leadership. Prepare a new leader within the company to act as CEO—one who shares the organization's values and has been accepted by the team. Also, put a robust management system ...

  27. "Hallucinating" AI models help coin Cambridge Dictionary's word of the

    Cambridge Dictionary's first definition of hallucination (for humans) is "to seem to see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist." It involves perception from a conscious mind, and ...

  28. What Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

    Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a serious illness, such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, dementia, Parkinson's disease, and many others. Palliative care can be helpful at any stage of illness and is best provided soon after a person is diagnosed. In addition to improving quality of life and ...

  29. OpenAI ousts Sam Altman, Microsoft picks him up, and the future of your

    OpenAI booted Sam Altman out of the CEO spot and may have just changed the trajectory of AI