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How to Write a Literature Review

What it is, the purpose, strategies, guidelines, and resources to help you to get started.

Search the Literature

The first step towards a good literature review is conducting a comprehensive literature search.

An effective literature search:

  • Helps clarify your research topic;

  • Identifies experts and important published works.

  • Reduces  time spent looking for information;

  • Maximizes the quality of your research results;

Search Strategies

When conducting your literature search, remember to:

  • Begin by searching for the most recent material. This allows you to go back and search for the seminal references that everyone else quotes.
  • Use a variety of resources,  A literature review should include a range of resources: books, journal articles, reviews, proceedings, papers, dissertations. Do not rely solely on electronic full-text material which is more easily available.

  • Think of key words and synonyms. Use a thesaurus to do so.

  • Use reference sources such as dictionaries for unfamiliar terms.  Encyclopedias are useful in introducing topics and will list core references.  Helpful reference sources may be found at Credo, a collection of over 800 full-text reference books.

  • Construct a search strategy.   Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).  Use "exact phrase" searches.  Use field searches (title, abstract).  Use subject terms and subject searches.   

  • Citation search: check to see what other authors/papers have cited a core paper you have found--use Google Scholar to citation search.

  • Be aware of the importance of evaluating information. Is the journal refereed/peer reviewed? Is the source or author authoritative?  Is it a primary source?  A secondary source?

  • Broaden your search by looking for literature in related fields.

  • Find detailed information on advanced search features here.

  • Keep accurate records of your citations. Software such as Zotero manages citations, provides links back to the full-text, and formats your bibliography. 

Source:  University of Newcastle, Australia.  Used with permission.