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Literature Review: Finding the literature

A brief guide on the process of creating a literature review.



Finding the right literature for your review isn't just about searching. It involves research, reflection, note taking, discussion, strategizing, and the follow-through necessary to explore the scholarly work that's been done on a topic. The following tips are intended to help you get a handle on the process of zeroing in on the literature.

Use a systematic approach

Remember that a literature review is about searching for and analyzing relevant literature using a systematic approach. What counts as systematic here may depend on the academic field or discipline in which you are writing. A particular database, journal, professional organization, award, or some other framing tool could be leveraged to execute a systematic approach. It could also depend on the nature of your assignment. Be sure you are taking full advantage of any resources that have been suggested to your class, and follow up with your professor(s) about additional resources they recommend for your topic. 

Narrow your topic

Because of the overwhelming amount of information out there, you are probably not expected to read everything. But narrowing your research topic can go a long way to limiting the amount of research material that is relevant. A well-narrowed research topic is easier to pursue than one that is too general or too specific. Spend some time reading around to get ideas for how to narrow your topic. Research is a process, so there should be constant feedback between the formulation of your topic and the literature you choose to review.

Note taking strategies and search tips

Write down key words related to your topic. Look up synonyms and cognates for each of those terms and jot them down too. Draw diagrams and doodles in your notes to help you think about how each term is related to the other terms. Keep these notes organized and refer to them as you begin searching. Can you identify subject headings related to your topic? Take more notes about what you find with each individual search term or string of terms, and where you find it. Vary your search queries by looking for key words in the title or subject field. Consider recording the number of search results you obtain from each search. What do these results say about your topic?

Where to search

One way to search systematically for literature on your topic is by combining the tips listed above with use of the library and its resources. Go to the library website and look around. What search tools can you find there? Are there any other resources on the library website that might be helpful? Consider some of the following, which are probably the most popular:

  • OneSearch - the library catalog and discovery system
  • Databases - look for articles in databases in your subject area
  • Research Resources - a list of library-related research resources
  • Ask a Librarian - get a hand thinking about and accessing library collections