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**Research and Writing**

Welcome! This guide will help you develop your research and writing skills by providing foundational knowledge of the iterative research and writing process as well as manageable steps for breaking down and navigating college research projects.

Still Struggling?

Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful.  Contact someone at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.

Resources at Your Fingertips

These are the resources included on this page.  See main text for further information.

What is a Literature Review?

Literature reviews (sometimes referred to as "research sections" or integrated into the introduction) examine a body of literature focused on a specific topic. Literature reviews consider the conversation that exists surrounding the topic or the progress of the research in addressing a problem. 

A literature review achieves the following:

  • Defines a problem and the significance of the problem.
  • Summarizes the literature and the current state of research or status of the problem.
  • Identifies correlations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the body of literature.
  • Examines the stakeholders and the voices shaping the scholarly conversation.
  • Suggests the research that still needs to be done or solutions to the problem.

Synthesizing Sources

A literature review is not organized by individual sources. In other words, you will not write a separate paragraph for each source. Instead, a literature review aims to group sources together according to their relationships, including similarities, differences, gaps, and limitations. The process of organizing sources to provide a cohesive, critical overview of existing research is called synthesis

The resources below will help you extract the pertinent information from each source and identify correlations between the sources. You will fill in the columns for each source according to the the set of established criteria on the left. Then, once you have completed this process for each source, you will be able to clearly trace the relationships between sources. 

Literature Reviews: If your sources are mainly literature reviews (also known as meta-analyses because they do not include primary research by the author of the source), this chart will help you categorize the sources cited within each piece. 

Empirical Studies: If your sources are mainly empirical studies (they contain original research conducted and observed by the author), you will use the chart below to present the framework in each study and the key findings. 

General Research: For other types of sources, or a mix of empirical and literature reviews, you may want to set your own criteria for what information you will extract from each source.  You can use the chart below to do this.

Then what? After thoroughly reading all of the research and filling in the matrix, you will create a system to visualize the relationships between sources. A color-coding or symbol-coding system helps you group sources and begin to see how you might organize them in the literature review.

Helpful Hints

Read each source at least twice. The first time that you read a source, read for content and to extract the ideas that you would like to include in your paper.  The second time that you read the source, read for structure. Look at how the author constructs the literature review. Consider: 

  • How many sources per paragraph?
  • What is the organization like?
  • How are the sources used? 
  • How are they introduced?
  • Do they agree or disagree? 
  • How do they build upon one another? 
  • Is there a central argument?
  • Where and how is this argument presented?  

This practice will help you to emulate what works well in a literature review and to adopt these structures for your own paper. It will also help you consider what might be missing and what you might want to include to ease the reader's understanding of the material.

Annotate to organize. Annotated bibliographies are not always required for research assignments, but it is often helpful to create a log of your research in annotated bibliography format. This will allow you to create your full citation (so it's ready to go for the final full bibliography), summarize the source, and note how it connects to the other sources and your thesis or focus.