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Conducting a Literature Review

Interpreting the Research

You built up your collection based on your research question- and you started organizing it to make writing easier. Now you want to bring your own voice to the project.

For each item, you can ask yourself:

  • Why did you choose this item?
  • What does it say about your research question?
  • Do my choices in literature support a convincing argument for my research question?

As you evaluate sources you might consider questions like:  

  • What kinds of sources would be most helpful?
  • When have I found enough?

What kinds of sources would be most helpful?

As you get an overview of the topic, identify common themes, issues, and perspectives. Your literature review will ideally reflect these varying perspectives. If specific people or information sources have played an important role in discussions about the topic, consider representing them in the review.  

For more on evaluating sources see: 

When am I done finding sources?

As you approach the end of your literature search, you will begin to recognize consistent patterns in what you find. These patterns may come in the form of:

• Recurring authors

• Recurring institutions or organizations

• Recurring structures of how thoughts/findings are organized


While it is difficult to find all sources on any given topic, when you feel you have a good overview of these patterns and themes you will likely be ready to complete the literature review. 

Writing the Review

  • First, write to understand.

    • Review your notes, memoranda, etc.

      • Could you teach this topic to others?

    • Exploratory write and outline- work through your problem

  • Then, write to be understood.

    • Write a messy draft

    • Do an edit

    • Repeat as necessary

    • Review your writing- are you telling the right story?