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Conducting a Literature Review: Home

Starting a literature review? Here are steps to follow and things to consider as well as a list of helpful tools to assist you along the way!

What is a literature review?

A comprehensive literature review is important to contextualize any study in terms of what is currently known, and identify gaps in knowledge. Literature reviews guide research development by looking at the entirety of the evidence that has been gathered on a subject.

Your Literature review should tell the reader the major achievementsmain areas of debate, and outstanding research questions about your chosen topic.

You've Got Your Topic. Now What?

Helpful steps in the process:

1. Identify databases to search (Which databases will produce the most useful results?)

2. Identify keywords/indexed terms that relate to your chosen topic

  • MeSH terms in PubMed/Ovid, keywords in other databases
  • Keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated)
  • Define criteria for elimination of irrelevant papers (these criteria can be described in your review to help define its scope)

3. Find similarly focused reviews to see what sources THEY used

4. Read articles & take notes

5. Analyze/synthesize findings

6. Organize your review

Can be organized by:

  • overarching themes
  • chronology of articles
  • theoretical/methodological exploration
  • theoretical/empirical findings

7. Find a target journal for publication & identify their requirements (this can help you tailor how you write)

8. Write! Summarize! Evaluate! Address inconsistencies in your findings! 

9. Review your review (using such questions as):

  • Have I adequately explained the justification for this topic?
  • Is there a balance between explanation and observation?
  • Have I missed out any significant aspect?
  • Have I supported the development of each step in my argument?
  • Is the material presented in an effective order?
  • Are there places where questions remain unanswered?
  • Have I explained to the reader the relevance of each piece of evidence?
  • Is there any material included that is interesting but which does not contribute to the development of my argument?
  • Have I linked things effectively?
  • Are my references up to date?


Why do a new review if others have done a similar review in the past?

Your review can:

  • tackle the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews
  • find a new viewpoint that has not been covered effectively in previous reviews
  • include new material that has been published