Why do a literature review?
- Understand the existing body of knowledge
- Discover your research niche and create your research agenda
- Identify controversies in your discipline
- Expose gaps in knowledge areas of dispute and uncertainty
- Identify the vocabulary of their topic
- Identify appropriate research methodologies
- Justify your proposed study as one that contributes something new to the body of knowledge
Stages of a Literature Review
See this fantastic video on literature reviews from North Carolina State University:
Try a search by keyword in a few subject specialized databases
Keep in mind the difference between keyword and subject searching.
By trial and error and reading titles and abstracts, identify the vocabulary of your topic in your discipline
Identify key search terms (by subject and keyword)
Take notes on your searches already completed and how effective they were
Thorough, full search
Methodically check all book catalogs and article databases using keyword and subject terms (subject terms may change for each database used)
By reading books and articles, identify major authors
Do an author search for this author
- Who do these authors cite?
- Do an author search for these cited authors
Repeat your search in various book catalogs and article databases
Search for unpublished or grey literature using Google Scholar, think tank websites, and government sources (government reports often do not show up in Google results—search relevant agency sites for reports)
Take notes on any modification of the search as more information is gathered
- Go back in time with your topic
- Search bibliographies of papers found for additional studies related to your topic
- Go forward in time with your topic: use Google Scholar “cited by” to see how each article informed future studies on your topic. Also gives an idea of an author or article’s prominence in the field
Consider contacting experts to determine if all relevant writing has been reviewed.
How Do You Know When You're Done with Your Literature Review?
Your literature review should be an ongoing process as you’re writing. Check in on the literature at certain points as you write. You can also subscribe to alerts from databases and use RSS feeds to keep abreast of your topic.
You will start to see the same arguments, theories, and authors pop up again and again.
You’ll find that you're discovering no new citations.
You’ve already read articles cited in newly discovered literature.
If this happens, you're done!