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Create a Literature Review

This guide will walk you through a process that can be used to build literature reviews. This process includes choosing a topic, identifying vocabulary for the topic, identifying the appropriate databases to search, evaluating the sources identified, managing the resources, and locating writing resources. While it is focused on creating literature reviews for academic assignments, many of the ideas are transferable to other kinds of writing, such as an extended essay or business report.

  • Choose a topic
  • Identify keywords
  • Select a database
  • Evaluate sources
  • Manage resources
  • Start writing

What is a literature review?

Literature reviews can have many meanings depending on their purpose. For the context of this guide, the definition by Jaidka, Khoo, and Na will be used. They stated, "A literature review is a summary of a set of related research papers. It selects information from the papers, and organizes and integrates it into a logical justification for the author's research." (2013, p. 303-304).

The purpose of the literature review could integrate additional complexities of the search. Cronin, Ryan, and Coughlan (2008, p. 38) noted "its goal is to bring the reader up-to-date with current literature on a topic and form the basis for another goal, such as the justification for future research in the area. A good literature review gathers information about a particular subject from many sources. It is well written and contains few if any personal biases" (p. 38).

Additional information and support about literature reviews can be identified in the references cited below.


So what now?

So far you have learned how to choose a topic, identify keywords and concepts, pick databases, evaluate sources, and manage the sources you found. The final step in this process is to start writing.

Synthesizing Resources

In evaluating your search results, you will need to find ways to draw conclusions about what you have read. Different ways of structuring your literature review could be:

  • Historical
  • Themed
  • Identification of a gap
  • How the topic was researched in the past (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods)
  • Exploration of how previous work shaped your study (using CRAAP model of evaluation of previous work, minimizing bias)

If you find that you cannot synthesize your research by using the above ways, you may want to start the process over by redefining your topic or searching for new resources.

Related Guides

Why create a literature review?

Purpose of Literature Reviews

  • Assignment for coursework
  • Capstone project
  • Evaluate current practices
  • Develop policies
  • Define key terms
  • Demonstrate gaps in the literature

Reasons for Literature Reviews

  • Identify what has been completed on the topic
  • Synthesize information to gain a new perspective
  • Identify relationships between ideas and variables
  • Establish a context around the topic or problem
  • Rationalize the significance of the problem