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Writing a Literature Review

Includes definitions, approaches to literature reviews, finding sources, organizing the literature review, and practical tips.

Searching the literature

"The literature" refers to a body of knowledge on a particular topic.  This includes

  • scholarly articles
  • books
  • conference proceedings
  • dissertations
  • theses
  • and other sources

Your job is to critically analyze these sources.  

Types of searching a researcher might use:

  • bibliographic (using references of others)
  • manual (searching databases and books)
  • personal contact (asking professionals in the field for advice on where to locate information).
    • adapted from Cooper, H. M. (1998). Synthesizing research: A guide for literature reviews. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Librarians can also help you locate resources on your topic.  Check with the subject specialist for your discipline.

Use a research log

It may be helpful to utilize a research log during your search for scholarly information.  This will help you identify those keywords that returned the most relevant results.  Keywords are very important to your research.  A keyword helps you accurately and succinctly describe WHAT you are looking for and increases efficient searching in databases.  Different databases may use different keywords so expect trial and error before you identify the best keywords for your research question.

Example of a basic research log
Date of search Successful Keywords used in search Unsuccessful Keywords  Where you searched

You may want to include additional information in your research log, such as number of results, and comments, but the most important information is included in the provided table.

Search library databases