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Literature Reviews

Steps in the Literature Review Process

Steps in the Literature Review Process

  1. Define the research question (for more)
    • You may need to some exploratory searching of the literature to get a sense of scope, to determine whether you need to narrow or broaden your focus
    • Identify databases that provide the most relevant sources, and identify relevant terms (controlled vocabularies) to add to your search strategy
    • Finalize your research question
  2. Determine inclusion/exclusion criteria
    • Think about relevant dates, geographies (and languages), methods, and conflicting points of view
  3. Choose databases and conduct the search
    • Conduct searches in the published literature via the identified databases
    • Check to see if this topic has been covered in other discipline's databases
    • Examine the citations of on-point articles for keywords, authors, and previous research (via references) and cited reference searching.
  4. Review your results
    • Save your search results in a citation management tool (such as Zotero, Mendeley or EndNote)
    • De-duplicate your search results
    • Make sure that you've found the seminal pieces -- they have been cited many times, and their work is considered foundational 
    • Check with your professor or a librarian to make sure your search has been comprehensive
  5. Synthesize the information gathered
    • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of individual sources and evaluate for bias, methodologies, and thoroughness
    • Group your results in to an organizational structure that will support why your research needs to be done, or that provides the answer to your research question  
    • Develop your conclusions
  6. Analyze the information gathered
    • Are there gaps in the literature?
    • Where has significant research taken place, and who has done it?
    • Is there consensus or debate on this topic?
    • Which methodological approaches work best?
  7. Write the literature review
    • Pick an organizational structure, i.e., themes, approaches, concepts, methodologies.
      • For example: Background, Current Practices, Critics and Proponents, Where/How this study will fit in 
    • Organize your citations and focus on your research question and pertinent studies
    • Compile your bibliography

Note: The first four steps are the best points at which to contact a librarian. Your librarian can help you determine the best databases to use for your topic, assess scope, and formulate a search strategy.

Videos Tutorials about Literature Reviews

This 4.5 minute video from Academic Education Materials has a Creative Commons License and a British narrator.

Recommended Reading

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Generic License.