Skip to main content

How to Conduct a Literature Review: Starting Your Research

This course guide is designed to help faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students in the process of conducting and writing a literature review for any discipline.

1. Define your thesis/research question.

The very first step of any research process is to choose a topic. With a literature review, the parameters will be set by a central research question. Always keep in mind the purpose of a literature review is to represent previously conducted research and its developments related to a specific research question.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure that your research question is managable, not too broad or too narrow in scope.
  • Write down keywords (the most important concepts from your research question) as you will use these terms to search the literature on your topic.
  • If you are having trouble, speak with your professor or a librarian for help. 

2. Determine the scope.

One of the key elements of a literature review is determining coverage, i.e. how comprehensive the review should be. This varies depending on the nature of your research question. Remember that one purpose of a literature review is to see where your research question falls within the body of research within a discipline.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Cast a wide search at first to find all the related material to your topic.
  • Then select the most relevant source material as it pertains to your topic and purpose.
  • Sometimes the scope of your literature review can be set by an assignment or your professor.

3. Decide where you will search for sources, and start searching.

It is important that you make a plan that details where you will search for source material for your literature review. 

Things to Do:

  • Make a list of subject-specific library databases that you will be searching.
  • Be comprehensive in your search.  Be sure to check other disserations and theses in ProQuest.
  • Make sure to check for books as well (either in Scout or in the Classic Catalog).
  • Carefully review the abstract of each research article you find to ascertain whether it fits within the scope of your literature review.
  • Keep track or write down useful search terms and search strings so that you can duplicate them if necessary. Also do this with dead-end searches so that you do not repeat unnecessary searches.
  • Use formal reference lists to find other research studies.
  • Speak with your professor or another scholar to determine if you are missing any key pieces of literature within the discipline.
  • Use some sort of citation manager (RefWorks, Zotero, etc.) to help keep track of the various citations.

4. Review the literature.

The University of West Florida has compiled a list of questions that will guide you as you begin to examine and 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?

Helpful Tutorials

Here are some helpful tutorials that will aid you as you use Scout to jump start your research for your lit review.

Scout Search