Recreation, Tourism, and Therapeutic Recreation (RTTR)


Steps to a successful literature review

A literature review is ... a careful examination of the literature pertaining to your specific research question or study. It highlights gaps in the field and addresses how your thesis fills those gaps.

A literature review is not ... a summary of the items you have found during your search, or an annotated bibliography. It is generally not an historical review of all of the literature in your specific area.

Remember, literature reviews are iterative, not linear, so you'll most likely find yourself revisiting each of these steps multiple times as you complete your literature review.

Click on the steps below for more information.

Step 1. Define your project.

Step 2. Do preliminary research.

Step 3. Refine your focus and take a deeper dive into the research.

Step 4. Group and synthesize the literature.

Step 5. Place the literature in context as you write the chapter.


Reid, M., Taylor, A., Turner, J. & Shahabudin, K. (n.d.). University of Reading Study Advice team & LearnHigher CETL (Reading). Starting a literature reviewUndertaking a literature reviewDeveloping your literature review.

Teaching and Educational Development Institute of the University of Queensland for the Queensland Higher Education Staff Development Consortium. (1997). Making sense of the literature.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Literature

There are three main source types: primary, secondary, and tertiary. These distinctions are based on the originality of the research. 

Primary sources are the original source of information. They are often original research articles that discuss original findings and data. They can also be dissertations and theses, conference proceedings, and reports on clinical trials. 

Secondary sources often analyze the content of original research articles. They take the shape of systematic reviews, meta analyses, clinical practice guidelines, and other review articles.

Tertiary sources are the furthest you can get from the original research and are often books, encyclopedias, news articles, and trade publications. These sources take the larger body of existing research and discussion on a topic and combine it into a single body or work or extrapolate the information into brief articles about the topic. 

Primary Literature

Secondary Literature Tertiary Literature

Original research articles, clinical trials, dissertations,
conference proceedings

Systematic reviews, meta-analyses, review articles, clinical practice guidelines Books, encyclopedias, news articles, trade publications
Where to look: Science Direct, CINAHL - most academic databases while limiting to "research article." 
Many (but not all) peer-reviewed journal articles with an IMRD format are original research articles.
Where to look: Cochrane Library, PubMed, CINAHL while limiting to source type Where to look: Gale Virtual Reference, Credo, EBSCO ebooks, Google, professional orgs