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.
Develop a working list of keywords using one of the handouts on this page, and refer to it often. This list of keywords will expand and evolve as you continue your research.
Step 2. Do preliminary research.
To gather articles, go to the library databases with your list of keywords and related fields. Start with databases in your field, but be sure to look at databases in related fields. Import appropriate articles directly to Zotero or RefWorks. Explore and note the keywords assigned to the best articles, and use those for subsequent searches. Keep a Research Log to refer back to throughout the writing process. Read and critically evaluate these sources, making quick notes in Zotero or RefWorks.
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 review. Undertaking a literature review. Developing 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.
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.
|Secondary Literature||Tertiary Literature|
Original research articles, clinical trials, dissertations,
|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|