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How to Conduct a Literature Review

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.

  • A literature review examines the body of work surrounding previous research.
  • The thesis should focus on a specific aspect of that research and highlight what you are searching for.
  • Make sure your research question is specific, but does not exclude outside sources with important information
  • Remember your keywords (write them down!) to search for the different aspects of your research question.

2. Determine the scope.

A literature review determines 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.
    • Consider:
      • Time periods
      • Key topic publications and the time between them
      • Location and population of the research and for your question

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

  • Be thorough: Explore a variety of literature including journal articles and books.
  • Carefully review the abstract of each research article you find and decide if it fits within the scope of your literature review.
  • Keep track of your searches and keywords
  • Use reference lists in published sources to find more literature
  • Use some sort of citation manager (RefWorks, Zotero, etc.) to help keep track of the various citations.

4. Review the literature.

  • 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?

Questions suggested by the University of West Florida