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Literature Reviews

Preliminary Steps

  • Precisely define your research topic
  • Formulate a research question about your defined research topic
  • Specify limitations (this is NOT a comprehensive list!):
    • Comprehensiveness
    • Range of publication years
    • Population studied
    • Methodologies used
    • Language of publication
    • Types of sources (such as articles, books, etc.)
    • Other limitations/boundaries, as needed
  • Identify appropriate resources to search for materials:
  • Brainstorm search strategies

Search, Find, and Read

  • Search for relevant publications in the resources you previously identified
  • Organize what you find in a way that works for you:
    • Utilize citation management software (Mendeley, Zotero, etc.)
    • Index cards
    • A notebook
    • Word document
    • Something else for documenting the sources you find
  • Access materials:
    • Download or print full text articles
    • Check out print books
    • Download or print ebook pages
  • Cited and citing reference searching to identify resources from reference lists in published materials rather than exclusively from keyword searching:
    • Cited references: look at your sources' references and footnotes to identify additional relevant publications
    • Citing references: search for sources that cite the materials you found in Google Scholar and/or Web of Science
  • Place InterLibrary Loan requests for items not available through Healey Library
  • Read and annotate your sources
  • Categorize sources by methodology, theory, theme, or some other organizational scheme

Write, Re-write, and Write Some More

  • After reading all of your sources, begin constructing your argument that answers your research question
  • Review your annotations/notes with your argument in mind
  • Introduce your topic and argument early in your literature review
  • Organize your discussion of the literature either chronologically, methodologically, or thematically
    • Chronological organization: discussion of the literature proceeds by discussing sources in the order they were published; by publication chronology; or by trend
    • Methodological organization: focus is not related to the content of your sources, but by the authors' methods/methodologies
    • Thematic organization: discussion of the literature is arranged around a topic or issue, rather than around chronology or methodology
  • Support your interpretations with evidence from the literature
  • Highlight the most important points of a source
  • Use direct quotes sparingly (or, ideally, not at all!) — the focus in a literature review is on your analysis, interpretation, and synthesis of the literature
  • Remember that your paragraphs should address concepts, not authors — your sources should interact and engage with each other in your literature review; you should not list your sources and discuss them independently of each other
  • End your literature review with a discussion of your conclusions, their implications, and potential directions for future research
  • Revise and rewrite — like all writing, a literature review is an iterative process!
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