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Copy of How to Conduct a Literature Review: Starting Your Research

Based on the Guide created by Michae Pearce at the Univ of Alabama

1. Define your thesis/research question.

The very first step: choose a topic

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 manageable, 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.

Determining coverage, i.e. how comprehensive the review should be?  Date coverage?  National or international? 

 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.

Things to Do:

  • Search the education-specific library databases for research articles.
  • Check  for disserations and theses in ProQuest.
  • Check for books as well in, PRIMO,  the On-line Catalog.
    • Review abstract of each article .
    • Keep track or write down useful search terms so that you can duplicate them if necessary. 
  • Use reference at the end of the articles to find other research studies.
  • Ask your professors to determine if you are missing any key pieces of literature.
  • Use some sort of citation manager (EndNote Basic, RefWorks, Zotero, etc.) to help keep track of the various citations.

4. 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?