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Conducting a Literature Review

Brainstorming Your Topic

If you have no idea where to start:

  • Do some preliminary searching- this doesn't have to be in the academic literature. Look for blog posts, news articles, videos, in the subject area you are focusing on.
  • Talk to your advisor, classmates, or instructor for ideas.
  • What's something of personal interest in this subject area?

When considering possible topics:

  • Is it specific enough- am I asking just one question?
  • Be open to changing it as you begin your research.

Constructing Your Argument

Once you are searching, you can ask yourself:

  • What existing work is relevant to my project?
  • How does what I am writing fit into this conversation?
  • If you can't find things specific to your topic, what do people currently think about the broader content area?
  • Are there major agreements or disagreements, or things that aren't being talked about? (also referred to as "gaps" in the literature)

Types of research to consider including:

  • Studies that establish context for why your research question is relevant
    • These might be older, known studies that have been cited in the field for many years.
  • Studies that establish key concepts/terms or models/arguments that you will adapt/challenge/compare.
    • Not everything you cite in your review needs to share your thesis or viewpoint. In fact, it will be stronger if there is more variety.
  • Studies on the same research question (if they exist)
  • Studies you will use only for their methodology
    • For example, you might like a particular way a scholar has done their interviews for their research. It is valid to cite this study and discuss how you used that structure for your project.

Finding Literature Reviews

Locating literature reviews on your topic can also provide a helpful topic overview. Many articles include a literature review section; review articles focus on reviewing the literature on a topic. 

Strategies for finding review articles:

  • Add the phrase "literature review" or "review article" to a search.
  • Use the "Document or Publication Type" field available in most databases to limit your search to review articles.

For example, in Scopus, you can go to Advanced Search and use the DOCTYPE limiter to search for review articles.

A screenshot showing Scopus Advanced Search. In the search box, the string reads DOCTYPE(re)